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Plan expands health care

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NMSU and UNM agreement will provide more services

LAS CRUCES – A new agreement between New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico will help expand public health services around the state, particularly in rural areas, administrators say.

The memorandum of understanding, which takes effect July 1, brings together NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service and UNM’s Institute for Community Health Services in a partnership that school leaders hope will result in more public health services.

It will also likely be part of UNM’s proposed College of Public Health which, if approved, would be the state’s first. The College of Public Health is in early stages of planning and would need to be approved by regents, the state Higher Education Board and the state Legislature.

The partnership “gives us the automatic buy-in on how to reach the folks that need it most,” said Bruce Hinrichs Cooperative Extension Service associate director.

The Cooperative Extension Service comprises about 350 full-time employees who work with communities around the state on everything from health and youth development to natural resources and community economic development.

Now, UNM will supply health care experts to further the cooperative extension’s public health component. For example, UNM could supply master’s level students in family therapy to work with families that have behavioral health needs in rural communities.

For now, the help will come in the form of students within the public health master’s program.

Deborah Helitzer, associate vice chancellor for research education at UNM’s health sciences center, said the agreement coalesces the expertise NMSU already has on the ground through the Cooperative Extension Service with UNM’s ability to deliver health care.

“It’s a real win-win for the state of New Mexico. The capacity (to provide public health) is enhanced by this collaboration,” Helitzer said. “This enables our students to go into the community and to work with people who have already established a relationship with their population, that are known and in communities (and) that are cohesive.”

Helitzer said the program will also help faculty conduct more research.

She said UNM will provide five students for the program in its first year, but hopes that number will grow significantly in a few years.

Both NMSU and UNM presidents have supported the collaboration.

“We started down this road with interim NMSU President Pacheco and are now looking forward to working with President Carruthers. Each of our universities offers something unique to this crucial partnership that will help bring public health care and education to every county in New Mexico,” UNM president Bob Frank said.

NMSU president Garrey Carruthers said he hopes a strategic planning team develops a plan by the fall. He said although there is no price attached to the agreement, the project will eventually need funding, although how much is not yet clear.

“I think it’s such an exciting concept that we need to move sooner than later,” Carruthers said.

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