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UNM breaks ground on movement disorders clinic

The new movement disorders clinic at UNM will be named after former regent Jamie Koch, right, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2017. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The new movement disorders clinic at UNM will be named after former regent Jamie Koch, right, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico residents with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders will soon have access to a one-stop clinic for treatment.

University of New Mexico officials broke ground Tuesday on the Nene and Jamie Koch Comprehensive Center for Movement Disorders. Officials said the facility will be the first of its kind in the state, and allow patients to see their neurologist and then do other aspects of their treatment, such as physical therapy, during the same visit.

“For the first time, people will have access to clinical trials and research that will not only offer hope and relief for their symptoms, but one day offer a possibility of a cure,” said Dr. Paul Roth, executive vice president and chancellor for UNM Health Sciences.

The center will be located near UNM Hospital at the intersection of Yale and Tucker.

Kate Becker, CEO of UNM Hospitals, said she is hopeful the center will be completed in January 2021.

“The wait times will come down because it will help with recruiting. We do have a shortage of neurologists in New Mexico. We are competing with other states to get that precious resource,” Becker said. “Having a center like this where they can be part of a comprehensive approach to movement disorders is a powerful motivator.”

She said UNM Hospitals has two neurologists who specialize in movement disorders and the hospital has recently recruited a third.

Throughout Tuesday’s groundbreaking, many UNM officials recognized former regent Jamie Koch for his help in making the center a reality.

Koch, after whom who the center will be named, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017. That’s when he learned of the staggering wait times many New Mexico patients face when seeking treatment for the disease.

Becker said that, depending on the patient, it can take six to nine months to see a neurologist and then another six months for a follow-up visit. That forces many patients, who already struggle with mobility because of their disease, to travel to neighboring states for care.

Koch lobbied legislators and others to break that cycle. And he was effective. This year’s state spending bill included $3.5 million for the clinic’s construction, which UNM will match.

“When all our lobbyists were people with Parkinson’s, when you sit before people and you hear their story, it’s pretty hard to turn them down,” he said after the groundbreaking.

Becker said the university hospital will also pay for additional costs so that other types of senior care can be folded into the movement disorders clinic, making the entire facility about $15 million. She said the facility will be designed with the understanding that patients will have mobility issues, so patients can expect nearby parking and relatively easy access to the building.

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