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We Need To Step Up Health Care Services

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In his Jan. 8 column, Winthrop Quigley raised the very valid question of why the state Board of Finance has yet to approve a $146 million, 96-bed expansion of the University of New Mexico Hospital when the need for it is glaringly obvious. He noted that the average wait time for an ER patient at UNMH to be given a hospital bed is 11 hours.

That’s the average.

Yet the Board of Finance continues to drag its feet.

As the Bernalillo County commissioner representing the district in which UNMH resides, I find this worrisome. As a New Mexican who — like everyone else — is just a bad accident or illness away from a hospital stay, I find it frightening.

Couple UNMH’s shortage of beds with Gov. Susana Martinez’s announcement yesterday that New Mexico is going to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 170,000 adults between 2014 and 2020, and it seems like expansion of UNMH is not an option, but a requirement.

I wholeheartedly support expanding Medicaid coverage, and I wonder how the Martinez administration plans to adequately care for more than 100,000 additional people without facilities to accommodate them?

Expanding the hospital’s capacity is only part of the solution.

For years, New Mexico has suffered a shortage of physicians. It’s estimated that the state has anywhere from 400 to 1,000 fewer physicians than it needs — and that number is rising.

Quigley noted that Lovelace Health System, which operates five hospitals in Albuquerque, employs few doctors. The inadequacy of their provider network in the state’s largest city, coupled with the fact that some doctors in our state are unwilling to accept Medicaid patients, underscores a significant problem that must be addressed.

It goes without saying that the success of our communities and our state as a whole depends on access to quality health care.

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act institutes the coordinated care model, which works to keep people healthier and away from ERs by expanding urgent and primary care clinic access.

Hopefully, that will provide New Mexico’s health care system some relief. We can’t afford to be a state where our hospitals are overburdened and understaffed.

It’s time for the Board of Finance to approve the expansion of UNMH. And it’s also time for our state’s health insurance providers to contract with doctors who serve New Mexico’s patients — all of New Mexico’s patients.

It’s only in doing those two things that we can begin to provide comprehensive health care to a population that so desperately needs it.

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