EOLONM Welcomes New Board Members and Advisors
At the July 21st meeting of the Board of Directors, three new members joined the organization’s three founding members, effectively doubling the size of the EOLONM Board. In this, the second year of operations, “the Board felt the organization’s growth, including the breadth of our statewide activities and growing cadre of volunteers warranted a larger Board,” said Board Chair, Barak Wolff. “It’s important to add capacity and the voices of those with diverse skill sets and lived experience to better reflect the state’s population,” he added.
We are thrilled to introduce you to these new members and have you learn about their passion for end-of-life work, their unique experiences and gifts they bring to the organization.
Debbie Armstrong, JD
Debbie Armstrong served four terms as the State Representative for House District 17 (Bernalillo County) from 2015 – 2022. In her time in the NM Legislature, among the bills she sponsored were the 2017 End-of-Life Options Acts (HB 171), the 2019 (HB 90) and the 2021 (HB 47) Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. She successfully shepherded the 2021 legislation through the House and on to final approval in the Senate. Debbie serves as President of Delta Management Group, Inc. a small business specializing in association and non-profit management. In that capacity, she serves as Executive Director of the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool, a legislatively created safety net program providing subsidized health insurance for people with high-risk medical conditions. Debbie has a B.S. in Physical Therapy from the University of Michigan and received her J.D. from the University of New Mexico Law School. On a personal note, Debbie has an adult daughter with childhood-onset metastatic thyroid cancer, an experience that has linked her to families across the state struggling with serious, life-threatening medical concerns. Debbie hopes to bring not only her personal and professional experience with death and dying but also her long history of relationships with the medical community, state government and the legislature to her service with EOLONM.
Erika Gergerich, PhD, LCSW
Erika’s social work practice experience includes six years of medical social work with an emphasis in geriatrics, including working with older adults experiencing social challenges, mental health issues, and new diagnoses. Research interests are in the areas of geriatrics, aging policy, and interprofessional education and collaboration. Erika received a Master’s degree in Social Work and a PhD in Public Policy from the University of Arkansas. In her current position as Assistant Professor at New Mexico State University she teaches both undergraduate and graduate students. Teaching interests include Ethics & Aging, Professionalism in the Field of Social Work and Work with Communities and Organizations. During the legislative campaign to pass medical aid in dying, Erika was an advocate extraordinaire – testifying on behalf of the legislation, sharing her personal story in news articles nationally and locally, before committees, on videos. In her work with EOLONM, Erika will bring her social work knowledge and experiences as a breast cancer patient, survivor and Mom with a young son to help others suffering from terminal illnesses achieve their end-of-life wishes.
Poem Swentzell, LMSW, LMT
Poem is a licensed Massage Therapist and Social Worker. As a hospice Social Worker, Poem provides caring emotional support and information on resources to hospice patients, families, and care providers and advocates for patients’ rights. She has both personal and professional experiences that inform her work with death and dying. A Tewa woman, Poem lives and works in the pueblos and communities of northern New Mexico and her experience in those communities gives her a rich understanding of working with indigenous people around end-of-life issues. She has served on a number of nonprofit boards in the past and appreciates the important role nonprofits play in addressing community needs. Poem has a BA from the University of New Mexico and a Master of Social Work, with a concentration in Hospice Care and Native American Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. In her service to EOLONM, she will apply her hands-on hospice and end-of-life experience, her knowledge of indigenous populations, and her experience in educational outreach and training to our operations to make sure everyone has access to the end-of-life choices they seek.
See the full list of EOLONM’s Board of Directors, here.
Two new Board Advisors have joined in service to EOLONM. Board advisors offer their special experience, specific expertise, and connectivity. They bring issues to the Board that need attention, help to develop sound policies and practices, and help open doors for EOLONM and our cause. Kevin Malone and Tom Crow are providing pro bono professional services and are the latest addition to EOLONM’s list of stellar advisors. For a complete list of EOLONM Advisors, please click here.
Kevin Malone, Esq EOLONM Legal Counsel Advisor
Kevin is a partner with the renown law firm of Epstein, Becker, and Green, a specialty health law firm that mostly represents health care entities and has offices both nationally and internationally. Kevin draws on more than a decade of experience in health care financing policy and law, including federal and state regulations and program policies governing health care financing systems. His legal experience also includes expertise in issues of mental health, substance abuse, Medicare-Medicaid, and working with Managed Care organizations and healthcare systems on legal and strategic matters. Kevin has a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and is J.D. from the George Washington University Law School. Currently living in the Washington DC area, Kevin is a native New Mexican and has family in Albuquerque. In providing pro bono outside legal counsel to EOLONM, he hopes to give back to his home state and make a difference for New Mexicans seeking support at the end of life.
Tom Crow, Financial Advisor
Tom Crow is the President of Crow Financial in Albuquerque, a Registered Investment Advisor with the state of New Mexico. Tom has been managing investments since June of 2000, and is now responsible for the investment positions in all Crow Financial client portfolios, as well as writing monthly market commentaries and periodic securities memorandums. Tom is actively involved in his community, serving on a private school board, a foundation committee, singing in his church choir, and playing piano/keyboard in a praise band. Tom began his service with EOLONM in 2022, providing financial advice to the organization’s Board of Directors and helping to responsively manage its’ assets for long-term sustainability.
In Honor of the Judge
In celebrating the first year anniversary of the authorization of medical aid in dying, several end-of-life options supporters recently gathered to consider how they could assure this compassionate law, which went into effect June 18, 2021, was truly available to ALL New Mexicans who want it. And just like that…the Judge Linda Vanzi End of Life Options For All Fund was born.
Linda Vanzi is a former Court of Appeals Judge who served in that capacity for 12 years, including two years as Chief Judge. Back in 2015, Morris v. Brandenburg – a case that had temporarily made medical aid in dying legal in Bernalillo County – was challenged in the Court of Appeals. Their charge was to determine whether the District Judge was correct when she ruled that the state constitution provided a right for patients to have medical aid in dying.
The Court of Appeals eventually overturned the District Court’s opinion by a vote of 2 -1 (which was later upheld by the State Supreme Court) that held that medical aid in dying was not a Constitutional right and should be a decision made in the State Legislature, not the courts. But it was Judge Vanzi that wrote the Court of Appeals powerful dissenting opinion arguing that the right to choose a peaceful death must be recognized as a fundamental right under the law of any civilized society.
In the years that followed the court decisions, patients, clinicians and advocates rallied, educated officials and the public of the importance of this option in relieving suffering and using Judge Vanzi’s logic that the right to die on our own terms is a fundamental right and convinced the New Mexico Legislature to finally pass the law in 2021.
The Linda Vanzi End of Life Options For All Fund was created in July 2022 to “assure that the rights of the rich and the poor will be the same with regard to this fundamental right of aid in dying,” announced Rob Schwartz, EOLONM’s Health Law & Policy Advisor and one of the Funds creator. Generous donors have begun designating donations to this fund to make sure that EOLONM has the resources needed to extend service to those who may not be aware or able to access the law. Schwartz says the Vanzi Fund will “be used to assure that people who speak languages other than English, and people of different cultures and religions, and people in Albuquerque and people in the rural parts of the State, all will have the same access to culturally and linguistically appropriate materials, and all will have a way to find providers and counselors who will help them have the death that they choose for themselves, consistent with their own values.”
If you would like to contribute to the Linda Vanzi End of Life Options For All Fund, please click here. Please note – “Vanzi Fund” – on your credit card payment or check.
National Audience: EOLONM presents to State End of Life Options’ Groups
On July 12th, EOLONM joined state coalitions and end-of-life options volunteer groups from all of the country in a meeting to share our experiences and with the intent to learn from each other. The meeting, hosted by Compassion & Choices (C&C), featured a presentation by New Mexico volunteers Debbie Armstrong and Jill VonOsten that covered our decade-long effort to pass the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act and our current activities to aid in implementation of the Act. Those in attendance heard some of the challenges we faced, a summary of what worked, and how we did it.
Fourteen states were represented at the meeting including states like Vermont and California where aid in dying legislation has passed and is being implemented and other states like Georgia, Virginia and Ohio where volunteers are working hard to educate the public and pass their own bills. C&C’s Chief Executive Officer, Kim Callinan provided a national overview of the 2022 legislative session. While there are many challenges ahead for states to pass compassionate end-of-life bills, there have also been many successes in the courts and legislatures across the country. All of the groups in attendance are doing important end-of-life work for their states and for the movement to expand end-of-life care options overall.
- July 15th – Volunteers Patsy Nelson and Revathi A-Davidson made a presentation on Advance Healthcare Planning and The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act to the NM Alliance of Health Councils. This is a group representing the forty-three Community Health Council’s located in counties, pueblos and communities throughout the state.
- July 12th – Volunteer MaryKay Brady presented to the Las Cruces Interagency Council, a roundtable meeting of Las Cruces non-profit organizations. MK talked about the services provided by End of Life Options New Mexico, the work of end-of-life doulas, and some new end-of-life informational materials available by Compassion & Choices.
- June 22nd – Volunteer Barak Wolff presented to the monthly meeting of the Santa Fe Estate Planning Council regarding the importance of advance care planning and what estate planners and their clients need to know about the Elizabeth Whitefield End of-Life- Options Act. This was their first in-person luncheon meeting in two years and it was well attended by about 25 estate planners. There were terrific questions and discussion…and all the resource materials were taken.
- July 4th – EOLONM hosted an informational table at the 4th of July celebration held at Gough Park. This fun event had volunteers Adrienne Dare, MaryKay Brady, Torie Grass, Nancy Cliff, and Lisa Jimenez speaking with more than 95 people on the topic of advance healthcare planning and end of life options, including medical aid in dying.
- July 12th – Volunteers Adrienne Dare and Nancy Cliff spoke to approximately thirty members of the Silver City Rotary Club about the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. Adrienne has been active in trying to make medical aid in dying an end-of-life option in New Mexico since 2002.
- Silver City: Aug 2, 2022, PFLAG meeting at 6:00 pm. Adrienne Dare will speak at the Unitarian Universalist church in Silver City, NM at 6:00 pm. 3825 N. Swan St., Silver City, NM. Topic: The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act. NM Medical Aid in Dying, a new end-of-life option in New Mexico.
- Valencia County: Aug. 3, 2022, at 2:00 pm Valencia County Community Wellness Council, Virtual Presentation Advance Care Planning & End of Life Options in NM, a presentation by Revathi A-Davidson, Contact: Pamela Skinner at VCCWC for more information. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Roswell: August 3, 2019 AT 7 AM – 1 PM, Chaves County Health Expo, Roswell Convention & Civic Center – EOLONM will host an Informational Table. For more information, contact MaryKay Brady email@example.com