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UNM secures funding for movement disorders clinic

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former University of New Mexico regent Jamie Koch learned there was a months-long waiting list to see a movement disorder specialist when his doctor told Koch he probably had Parkinson’s disease.

He has since become an advocate for creating a clinic at UNM that will bring together resources to help treat Parkinson’s and other movement disorders. Partial funding for such a center was included in a state spending bill, and doctors at the university hospital are hopeful the complex will be up and running by late summer or early fall 2020.

“This movement center won’t benefit me now. I know I have Parkinson’s and I know what I have to do and my doctor has me on a good schedule,” Koch said in an interview. “But people who don’t know they have it … or somebody who doesn’t have much money and it would take nine months to determine if they have Parkinson’s, what are they going to do? That’s why I pushed so hard.”

Support for the center has gained momentum. The 2018 Legislature passed a memorial urging the UNM Health Sciences Center to explore the creation of a movement disorders center. In 2019, funding was allocated to design and construct the center. Koch noted that there was bipartisan support for the project.

The state spending bill signed by the governor contains $3.5 million in state funding for the project, and the University of New Mexico has pledged to match that funding, according to a UNM news release.

With that $7 million, university officials are planning a 16,000-square-foot, single-story clinic. Planning documents show the clinic would have nearby parking to make for easy access to the clinic, wide hallways and space dedicated for therapy and rehabilitation. The exact location for the facility hasn’t been finalized.

“Parkinson’s is a progressive problem. There’s ways you can slow it down with the proper medicine, the proper exercise and the proper program,” Koch said. “If you have to wait nine months to determine if you have Parkinson’s and then once you get Parkinson’s it might be six months before you can get in with your doctor because they are so busy … (the center) will mean that people can get treated quickly instead of having to wait for a long time.”

Dr. Sarah Pirio Richardson, a UNM neurologist who specializes in movement disorders, said in addition to bringing together many of the university resources that could help people with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, the clinic will hopefully also attract doctors. She said there are only three movement disorder specialists in the state and about 10,000 possible patients.

“We need both the infrastructure and the people to do the job and take care of the vast need,” she said.

Pirio Richardson said in New Mexico there is about a six- to nine-month waiting list to see a movement disorder specialist.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s. People living with the disease try to manage their symptoms with a combination of medicine and physical therapies.

UNM’s movement disorders clinic will be modeled like similar clinics that exist in other states.

UNM’s Amanda Deligtisch, an associate professor in the Department of Neurology, is hopeful that having such a space will help the university take part in clinical trials that could help patients.

“As a center one of the things you can do is start to expand your experience and footprint into clinical trials so patients in New Mexico could be part of those cures, potentially,” she said.