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July 19, 2024
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Lack of both healthcare workers and infrastructure hurting New Mexicans’ access to medical care • Source New Mexico

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the state legislature, many New Mexico counties still face shortages in healthcare workers and placements for them to practice.

According to a recent Legislative Finance Committee report presented to state lawmakers this week, healthcare workers were the top occupational need of 28 New Mexico counties in 2023. 

Based on latest data from 2021, only seven of the state’s 33 counties were at or above the benchmark of 8.5 primary care practitioners per 10,000 people. Bernalillo County had an excess of 138 providers in relation to the benchmark, the highest rate in the state.

Most counties were in the range of one to 10 providers below the benchmark. However, nine counties were below the benchmark by more than 10 providers. Doña Ana and Valencia counties were missing the largest number of providers in the state – 47 providers below the benchmark.

A University of New Mexico Health System report stated an additional 334 primary care providers “would be needed for all New Mexico counties to meet the national benchmark.”

As for mental health, about 40% of the state’s population is underserved, or about 845,000 residents in 28 counties. New Mexico is joined by South Dakota, Wyoming, Indiana and Montana as the states facing the largest shortages of providers. 

Healthcare students not staying to practice in New Mexico, infrastructure not up to par

Michael Richards, senior vice president for Clinical Affairs with the UNM Health System,  explained to lawmakers that there is an average of 3,000 students enrolled in health care classes at New Mexico universities, including nursing and master’s in social work programs.

However, he said in his department’s report “even if every student were to graduate and seek employment in New Mexico and in the healthcare field, there is still a shortage of approximately 2,000 workers within the healthcare and social assistance field.” 

LFC analysts reported there was an average annual shortage of 5,000 healthcare workers in the state between 2018 and 2023.

The state legislature has appropriated nearly $200 million to the state Higher Education Department for endowments and financial aid as well as allocated tens of millions of dollars toward loan forgiveness programs, according to the LFC report. Despite this, students have been slow to take advantage of the assistance.

While there are not enough currently enrolled healthcare students to fill the state’s gap, according to the LFC report, the students who do graduate in New Mexico have limited options for where they work because of a lack of healthcare infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. 

“In some cases, the reason why we don’t have the clinical delivery system we want is because we don’t have the healthcare professionals to recruit into the delivery system. In other cases it’s because there’s no healthcare infrastructure to recruit the providers into,” Richards told lawmakers. 

Infrastructure includes not only physical hospitals or clinics, but access to broadband as well, particularly as interest in remote care has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“New Mexico’s future strategies will need to focus on expanding health educational programs in parallel with growing healthcare infrastructure and attracting and retaining talent,” Richards’ report stated.

Other suggestions given in the LFC report included increasing Medicaid funding and funding to the Health Professional Loan Repayment Program, amending the Medical Malpractice Act, expanding the Rural Health Care Practitioner Tax Credit and permitting the Medical Board Compact Commission to work with the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact to reduce barriers for physicians licensed in other states to practice in New Mexico.


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