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Help prevent exposure deaths this winter

By the end of November, Gallup Police had already responded to three open-field deaths, also called unattended deaths, which means a person was found dead alone in a public space. In many instances, there is no foul play suspected with these types of deaths. But too often they are caused by hypothermia, exposure to harsh weather or other health related issues.

The Gallup Police Department reported that four individuals died of hypothermia in 2017 and three died in 2018. And already, one month into cold weather this year, we have three deaths that may be connected to exposure, but the official causes of death won't be known until autopsies are performed.Whatever the cause of death, we have too many relatives and neighbors dying alone in cold, damp and dark places.Fortunately, the Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services Behavioral Health Collaborative has been working to spread awareness about the danger of individuals freezing to death outdoors as winter approaches.

Collaborative members have been passing out flyers declaring "One exposure death is too many!" in order to raise awareness about the risk of exposure deaths and to encourage residents to call for help."Watch for impaired persons in the evening," the flyer states. "Don't let them freeze to death. They need shelter for the night. Ignoring them is neglect. … Let's save lives this winter!"In the past, many open-field deaths were primarily suspected of being caused by exposure to the cold. In recent years, however, Gallup Police officials have been careful about identifying the suspected causes of death until more information is known.Open-field deaths and exposure deaths are a reality of winters in Gallup, but the RMCHCS Behavioral Health Collaborative is working with partner agencies to prevent them from happening.
"We have zero tolerance for people dying from exposure," Behavioral Health Collaborative Coordinator Juliana Dooley said. "If you see something, do something.All it takes is a phone call and a location. You don't even have to wait for Metro's van to arrive, you have done your part."The van that Dooley mentioned is actually part of the Gallup Police public service program - formerly known as the community service aide program - dedicated to picking up individuals who are too intoxicated to care for themselves. The individuals are then committed into protective custody at Na'nizhoozhi Center Inc. Detox for 12-72 hours until they sober up.The detox center offers indoor mats for individuals to sleep on and can accommodate 150 people seeking detox, treatment and shelter. Those who seek shelter at the detox center are provided breakfast in the morning.

For their recent work in raising awareness of this serious issue, we want to commend the Behavioral Health Collaborative, which includes Metro Dispatch, Hozho Center, the McKinley Collaborative for Health Equity, the Well Spring Recovery Center, the McKinley County Community Services Department, and the New Mexico Social Justice & Equity Institute.
And we strongly encourage residents who see impaired or down-and-out individuals to call the McKinley County Metropolitan Dispatch Authority at 505-722-2231. If there is a medical emergency, call 911.
You just might save a life.

In this space only does the opinion of the Gallup Independent Editorial Board appear

Open-field deaths and exposure deaths are a reality of winters in Gallup, but the RMCHCS Behavioral Health Collaborative is working with partner agencies to prevent them from happening.