More than 10,000 New Mexicans are living with debilitating movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, which exact a cruel toll on patients and their loved ones.
People suffering from tremor and other symptoms that accompany these conditions may benefit from medications or even surgical interventions, such as deep brain stimulation. Early diagnosis and intervention by specialized neurologists can decrease the burden of these disorders. More advanced and difficult-to-diagnose cases need the attention of these specialists.
Unfortunately, our state has only three neurologists with advanced fellowship training in movement disorders, two of whom are in the UNM Department of Neurology. Patients often must wait six months or more for an appointment — an eternity for someone living with these diagnoses.
That’s why the Legislature recently passed a memorial asking the University of New Mexico Board of Regents to devise a plan to create a dedicated movement disorders center staffed with fellowship-trained movement disorders specialists and allied health providers.
We’re glad to have the Legislature’s support and agree wholeheartedly with the need for such a center. It is something we have discussed creating over the years. We would like to take this opportunity to explain how we came to find ourselves in this predicament in the first place – and what we can do about it.
We have known for some time that we need more fellowship-trained movement disorders specialists, but it is quite difficult to recruit and retain these specialists when the salaries we are able to offer are below the 25th percentile of what is being paid nationwide. There is an overall shortage of neurologists around the country, so we face stiff competition with other communities that can afford to pay more for their services.
If funding for a comprehensive movement disorders clinic along the lines envisioned by the Legislature could be found, we would need to support the movement disorders specialists with skilled nursing, medical and surgical management, psychiatric consultation and integrative care.
A dedicated movement disorders clinic should also have a research arm with the capacity to attract clinical trials of new drugs and treatments that could prove beneficial for our patients.
It is sobering to consider that Parkinson’s and other movement disorders are primarily diseases of aging – and it is predicted that a dozen years from now New Mexico is expected to be the state with the fourth-highest percentage of its population over the age of 65.
In other words, the number of movement disorders patients in our state will likely grow substantially. We must start planning now if we are to address the current gap in care and prepare to meet future needs. We look forward to working with the Legislature and Board of Regents to find an effective response to this health care challenge.