As the only physician in the state Legislature, I have a unique responsibility to protect the truth about New Mexico's health care situation from those who would twist it to serve their own political ambitions. My patients regularly tell me they can spot a physician that cares more about making money than caring for them a mile away.
Gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., used poor judgment by accepting public money for personal profit when she served as NM Department of Health Secretary. We need a governor that is willing to fight corruption and give a voice to the people.
Grisham set up a controversial "consulting" company to manage the state's high-risk insurance pool. Part of the deal was for her to get paid lots of money, no less than $138,000 in 2013 alone. Grisham continued to profit from the arrangement after Obamacare took effect and pool participants drastically decreased. In fact, her personal fees greatly increased during this period. When asked about it, she has struggled to explain why, only citing "management challenges."
My fellow New Mexicans: Are you OK with our government officials starting their own companies and channeling tax dollars through them for their own profit? I, for one, think this should be illegal. It's like Donald Trump starting another business and signing a federal law that guarantees his profit.
In addition, Grisham misled our state when she took credit for falling drug overdose rates in New Mexico during her tenure as Health secretary. The victim in this case was the truth as drug overdose deaths actually increased from 304 in 2004 to 439 in 2007. Opioid-related overdose deaths climbed during her tenure.
New Mexico's health care workers and patients deserve leaders that focus on helping people. I was brought up to believe that if a person is capable of lying about one thing, they are probably capable of lying about something else. I don't have all the answers, but one thing is certain: New Mexico's problems won't be solved by leaders taking credit for outcomes they had nothing to do with.
The New Mexico medical community is comprised of thousands of hard-working, compassionate people from both the left and right of the political spectrum, but all their politics fade into the background when their patients' health is at stake. We work as a team that is dedicated to fixing our health care system and our communities.
The only way we will succeed is by being honest with each other and by not sugar-coating reality. I'm optimistic about New Mexico's future. Our state's prognosis depends on sound, fact-based leadership. No place for egotists that would mislead us by touting false accomplishments. In the case of the Grisham example, she has shown us what the alternative would look like: decisions that would be taken on false premises or by cold political calculus. This shows not only a lack of true empathy for the people of New Mexico, but also a lack of respect for them.
Nobody can blame climbing overdose deaths on one person, and I'm not suggesting that. What concerns me is that we have a candidate who has abused our trust and has received public money for her own personal gain at the expense of the poor who have trouble gaining access to health care.
For 80 years, New Mexicans have been subjected to the same empty promises for prosperity. It's time to change that. It's time for something new. It's time to vote for honesty, innovation and compassion in our government. This will not be easy. Nothing worthwhile usually is.
Regardless of your political affiliation, we all want leaders – and physicians – who care enough about us to tell us the truth and not attempt to profit from our weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Show me a leader with compassion and the courage to tell you the truth, and I'll show you a leader worth supporting. It's been my experience that the best predictor of a person's future behavior is their past behavior.
Dr. Gregg Schmedes is New Mexico's director for the Academy of Medical Ethics and assistant professor of surgery at the University of New Mexico.