The excitement that followed the governor’s promise to invest $10 million in a reproductive health clinic in southern New Mexico is peppered with the reality that there is a severe shortage of health care workers in the State.
When Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the investment Wednesday in an executive order, she paraphrased a famous phrase from a baseball movie, “If we build it, they will come.”
But New Mexico needs more than a field of dreams. Real health workers will have to manage the influx of patients seeking reproductive care.
That sentiment was shared by people working on the front lines of reproductive health across the state, who reported an increase in patient numbers of up to 150% since the Dobbs decision in June when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal protections for abortions.
“Being understaffed for this but trying to meet the needs has been very exhausting for our staff,” said an abortion clinic worker who declined to be named for security reasons.
Lujan Grisham’s proposal is for the state to build the facility, but a contracted service provider would manage day-to-day operations. She indicated that it will probably be built in Las Cruces or somewhere in Doña Ana County. It could be led by someone from another state or from New Mexico.
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The money would be among the governor’s capital spending priorities next year. There probably wouldn’t be much pushback from lawmakers in a Roundhouse that typically heavily biases Democrats.
But Lujan Grisham needs to be re-elected before he can commit any money next year.
In a statement, his GOP opponent Mark Ronchetti denounced the investment and affirmed his position that he would propose banning abortion after 15 weeks.
In the meantime, medical professionals, advocates and abortion funds are still scrambling to meet demand and are excited about the idea of opening a clinic in southern New Mexico.
“We have said very loudly that New Mexico has access to abortion in the past, but there have been gaps in the care that has been provided,” said Luzhilda Campos, co-director of policy at Bold Futures. , an organization that has recently focused on its work in southern New Mexico.
Campos wants to make sure the needs of the community are met. For her, this means cultural competence, language access and assistance for anyone who needs to travel from rural areas.
“Living in the southern part of New Mexico, abortion care and reproductive health care are not as accessible as in other areas of our state. So just having the clinic there is huge,” Campos said. “To be able to have more, not just abortion care, but a clinic that encompasses more than just abortion, a full spectrum of reproductive health care, that’s huge.”
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Rep. Melanie Stansbury hosted a roundtable with people invested in abortion access in New Mexico. Although it looks like her district won’t be getting any money for the new clinic, she’s adamant that staffing issues need to be addressed statewide.
“We are short of suppliers. There are major barriers, regardless of what happens in policy and in budget, only for people who need to access care,” she said. “New Mexico is experiencing a shortage of health care providers overall. And one of the big challenges, especially in our rural areas, is that we don’t have access to a lot of health care clinics of any kind.
Stansbury said one of the things his office is doing to help overburdened health clinics is making it easier for them to get reimbursements from federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare.
Long term, she said, “We really need to build a health care pipeline for New Mexico.”
The Doña Ana Clinic will need to attract many specialists if it delivers on its commitment to providing comprehensive care, such as contraception and checkups, family planning, prenatal care, labor and delivery, care and support postpartum, breastfeeding counseling and support, abortion, and appropriate medical management of miscarriages and pregnancy losses.
Groups are already heading south. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which was at the center of the Dobbs decision, moved their clinic to Las Cruces when Mississippi’s trigger law went into effect. Planned Parenthood also plans to move resources into the region.
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“The southern part of New Mexico has not had access to comprehensive reproductive health care for generations. Directing money to help our families in southern New Mexico is essential for patient care,” said Kayla Herring of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
In his remarks, Lujan Grisham noted the need for ongoing education and leveraging partnerships such as New Mexico State’s Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine and UNM School of Medicine. “Doing residencies and clinical training for primary care and women’s specialists is essential,” she said.