Bill aimed at bolstering NM’s patchwork rural health care system on the move

A proposal to use some of New Mexico’s budget surplus to expand healthcare in rural areas of the state could benefit existing hospitals looking to expand their services, such as the Alta Vista District Hospital in Las Vegas, shown in this December filing photo. The bill passed the first appointed Senate committee on Monday by a 7 to 1 vote. (Eddie Moore/Magazine)

SANTA FE — A proposal to leverage New Mexico’s unexpected income to support healthcare in rural areas of the state, where residents have to travel often long distances to find a hospital or healthcare facility — if they can — is in the Roundhouse.

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee approved the measure, which Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham suggested as a priority at this year’s 60-day legislative session, by a 7-to-1 vote on Monday.

“Expanding rural healthcare delivery not only benefits New Mexicans in rural communities,” Lujan Grisham said on Monday. “It benefits every New Mexican by increasing provider reach across the state.”

Legislation could free up funding for projects such as a proposed new residential behavioral health facility in Curry County, as Clovis Mayor Mike Morris says funding concerns appear as a potential hurdle for the project to serve residents of the five-county district.

“There’s no inpatient facility in the area, so it’s (currently) sometimes a drive into El Paso,” Morris said, who traveled to Santa Fe to speak with lawmakers on Monday about the facility, which he said could also benefit service members. At Cannon Air Force Base and family members.

“If we don’t remove New Mexicans who need help…how will we have a strong workforce?” Morris also said in an interview.

The law is similar to the previous measure, Senate Bill 7, which was discontinued in last year’s session.

$200 million in government funding will be allocated to help defer costs associated with building new health care clinics – or hospitals – in rural areas of the state and expanding services to existing healthcare facilities.

Under the bill’s definition, only hospitals in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents will be eligible for money, which will be given in the form of grants by the state Department of Human Services.

This means that at least five New Mexico counties, which make up about two-thirds of the state’s population, would not be eligible – Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Santa Fe, Sandoval, and San Juan counties.

Troy Clark, president and CEO of the New Mexico Hospital Association, said after Monday’s hearing that the funding would not be available directly for hospital land acquisition and construction costs, but could be used to cover the costs of staffing and other operational expenses. facility is accelerating.

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He also said that supporters of the bill are hopeful there will be demand to use the fund specifically to expand behavioral health and maternal care services.

But he acknowledged that despite the state’s latest efforts to support the medical supply line, labor shortages may make it difficult for some hospitals to expand.

“I really think that’s the question that will determine how widely this will be heard,” Clark told the Journal.

Meanwhile, R-Eunice Senator David Gallegos, the only senator to vote against the bill at Monday’s hearing, questioned supporters of the bill over whether funds distributed under the bill could be used for abortion services.

But Kari Armijo, acting interim secretary of the Department of Human Services, tried to quell the concern, saying, “That’s not the purpose of the bill.”

New Mexico has long struggled to recruit healthcare professionals to clinics and hospitals in rural areas of the state.

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In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, some rural hospitals have also seen financial losses due to elective surgeries and other procedures suspended in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

According to one state rural health plan, at least five New Mexico counties currently do not have a hospital within their borders, while a few other largely rural counties have only limited-service hospitals.

Christina Campos, director of the Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa, said it’s not uncommon for some New Mexico residents to have to drive for more than an hour to get to the nearest hospital.

He said the proposed infusion of funding would support rural startups that are putting their finances in order.

“All New Mexicans, no matter where we choose to live, urban or rural communities deserve access to quality hospitals and emergency rooms,” Campos added. “This is an important step towards achieving that goal.”

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, the last panel appointed before it reaches the entire Senate.


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