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Push for movement disorders clinic at UNM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is not meeting the needs of those with Parkinson’s disease and related conditions – and it’s a patient population that will likely only grow, according to a University of New Mexico physician who specializes in movement disorders.

Dr. Sarah Pirio-Richardson spoke last week in favor of a new comprehensive movement disorder center at UNM, something the university is exploring with some recent direction from New Mexico lawmakers.

The House of Representatives in January passed a memorial asking UNM’s Board of Regents to craft a plan for a center and present the details to a legislative committee by Nov. 1.

According to the memorial, movement disorders affect 250,000 New Mexicans, but the state has just three physicians with the associated fellowship training.

Addressing the regents’ Health Sciences Center Committee, Pirio-Richardson said movement disorder centers already operate around the country, and demand exists in New Mexico, especially given the state’s aging population.

As one of two UNM physicians who specialize in movement disorders, and collaborate actively with a neurosurgeon, Pirio-Richardson said the university has a “good foundation” to care for those with Parkinson’s, essential tremor and other conditions that affect mobility.

“But the problem is we’re spread thin – we’re spread over multiple clinics, multiple sites and days,” she said.

A comprehensive center could provide patients with the most current treatments, access to clinical trials and coordinated care from teams that encompass movement disorder physicians, neurosurgeons, psychologists and physical, occupational and speech therapists – all in one venue, she said.

Regent President Rob Doughty expressed support for the project and asked UNM physicians to make the same report to the full Board of Regents.

Former regent and former state lawmaker Jamie Koch, who has Parkinson’s, has helped lead the push for the center.

Dr. Christopher Calder, interim chair of UNM’s neurology department, said these focused facilities speak to growing subspecialization and advances in treatment.

“All neurologists don’t do everything anymore,” he said. “There are a lot of treatment options we didn’t use to have. There are a lot of things I would’ve treated 20, 30 years ago when I started my career that I certainly wouldn’t touch now.”

Dr. Paul Roth, UNM’s Health Sciences chancellor, said faculty is analyzing the staffing needs to run a center, while administrators at UNM Hospital and Sandoval Regional Medical Center are exploring what it might cost to construct it.

He said lawmakers expect UNM to have a capital and operating funding proposal ready for the 2019 session.