Editor's Note: This is part 6 of a multi-part series of articles on the Prospectors' Legislative Communication Forum, held Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Western New Mexico University's Light Hall. This article will cover the healthcare presentations

By Mary Alice Murphy

Bruce Ashburn, Prospectors president, served as the moderator in front of Sen. Howie Morales, Rep. Dianne Hamilton and Rep. John Zimmerman.

Ashburn introduced Gila Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Brian Cunningham and Susie Trujillo, GRMC Project Development.

"We are constantly evaluating our capital needs, changing between infrastructure and equipment needs," Cunningham said. "Continuing reductions in patient-care reimbursement and increasing challenges in collecting monies owed to us for services rendered present additional issues.

"Our priority this year is to purchase and equip Gila Regional with a new portable, digital X-ray machine," he continued. "The request is for $150,000."

He said investments in new electronic health records are being done to stay current with federal mandates and the ever-changing technology curve.

"We are close to the purchase of a gamma ray camera," Cunningham said.

"Thank you for critical pieces of equipment," he said. "The portable X-Ray machine allows us not to have to move a critical patient or one with clinical issues. It is being used every day. Thank you for your help. We have already moved to purchase an arthroscopic system."

Zimmerman asked how long the hospital would have to wait for such a piece of equipment.

"We should have it by June," Cunningham said. "The digital imaging equipment is at the end of its life. Unlike with non-digital, you don't have to develop film. In a critical situation, the minutes you save count.

Zimmerman questioned whether digital imaging contrast is as good as film.

"Digital technology has surpassed film and is far superior to what we used to get," Cunningham said.

"Talking about speedy," Hamilton said. "When my husband had a massive stroke, the helicopter was waiting for him when the ambulance got us to the hospital and got him to El Paso for that critical shot. On the Fourth of July, I crushed my right ankle. Before I knew it, I was on my way to my doctor in Tucson."

"Thinking of Gila Regional Medical Center, the general public needs to know about our excellent doctors and residents in our rural area," Zimmerman said.

Cunningham said the hospital is proud to partner with Hidalgo Medical Services in its medical residencies.

"I am grateful to you for your support," Morales said. "There has been so much growth under your leadership. We are moving toward being the best rural hospital in the nation.

"Do you have the paperwork for the capital outlay request?" Morales asked.

"They have promised me a two-day turnaround or we lose the quote," Susie Trujillo said. "It's very frustrating."

"People may not recognize what a treasure we have here to have such wonderful hospital service," Morales said.

"We know budgets are tight," Cunningham said. "We come requesting only what we really need."

"I want to remind presenters that you have only five minutes," Ashburn said. "Next we have Charlie Alfero of the Southwest Center for Health Innovations.

"The Center for Health Innovations or CHI is the brainchild of HMS and other national efforts," Alfero said. "We are moving statewide and we work with about 1,200 kids. These kids are put up at Western for ACT prep and MCAT prep with Forward New Mexico.

"We've been cut $200,000 and the Department of Health may be eliminating the program," Alfero said. "I want to renew the language to support this wildly successful program.

"Our second request is we got $100,000 in the Human Services budget to establish rural residencies," he continued. "We have leveraged $300,000 in federal funding supporting Las Cruces and Albuquerque. We want to reauthorize the Human Services dollars for Gallup and Farmington.

"The WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) program funding for dental residents, we would like to go to three Western New Mexico University students, who have been accepted at the University of Utah Dental School," Alfero requested. "The dollars come from the tobacco allocation.

"Lastly, we ask for support for $127,000 for WNMU and CHI to improve readiness of students for dental school," he said.

"At the Health and Human Services Interim Committee, there is an amazing respect for Charlie Alfero," Morales said. "He is relied on for information.

"If we appropriate to CHI and Western, whom would it go to?" Morales asked. He answered the question and said it would be better to go through CHI.

"I would be happy to draft legislation," Alfero said.

"What is the rationale for DOH to cancel the recurring funding?" Morales asked.

"I think it's maybe because it's localized, and they want to send it statewide," Alfero replied. "I beg to differ with DOH. I think the money should be allocated to local communities, which are the source of solutions.

"Loan repayments are important, but if that is not possible, maybe we can get committed people to come here just for loan repayment," he said. "Maybe by serving with the New Mexico Health Service Corps."

Morales said he appreciates the local grown physicians. "I think other communities would like that."

"There might be other university that say no to your getting the WICHE funding, because they want those three slots," Morales said.

"I think WICHE would say it's from the budget from the existing allocation for three students," Alfero said. "There is not that sort of modeling in rural areas. We would be able to afford it without the WICHE dollars.

"We get them prepped for dental school applications, and we'll have a continuing relationship with each high-yield, high-promise student," Alfero said.

Morales suggested the funding request could be put into House Bill 2.

Zimmerman said he would be happy to put the language into the bill.

He asked if the money came from the Tobacco Settlement Fund.

"How do you tie different funding back to tobacco use?" Zimmerman asked. "You may be able to tie that to the dental program, because smoking and chewing cause teeth and mouth damage. Then it would be a very justifiable source of funding.

"I don't know why funding is going away for Forward New Mexico," Zimmerman said. "I hear: 'Look at this. They're doing this.' It's troubling to me."

"It's from DOH not to fund it," Alfero said. "They plan on the funding for another program. If we think it's a good model and other places think it's a good model, I'm not asking for more, just continuation of the funding."

Hamilton asked: "What if we don't have three applicants for dental school?
When our kids went to college, we couldn't afford big schools, and we made too much for financial help."

"Would these students be eligible for this funding source?" she asked.

"We are planning a Health Careers Club at Western," Alfero said. "We will have knowledge to let the kids know about financial opportunities. We will intentionally develop programs for that knowledge and help."

Speaking on behalf of the Behavioral Health Local Collaborative were several people.

Matt Elwell, Luna County Detention Center administrator introduced the inmate support program's new staff members, Jennifer Tone and Tracy Gonzales. "Senate Memorial 4 has language in it supporting our model of a wrap-around service for mental health. "

"We are the news representatives in the process of preparing the analysis," Tone said. "We entered into an MOU with Medicaid to look at Medicaid for the incarcerated, to provide mental health services for Grant, Luna and Hidalgo counties for integration upon an inmate's release.

"The program will include mental health counseling and detention center training," she said.

"We want to get the communities involved with housing and insurance," Gonzales said. "We want to build community support. Thank you for your support. We need funding for two part-time positions."

"We came with the concept of our vision," Mike Carillo, Grant County Detention Center administrator said. "Nothing has changed except that we pushed ourselves forward. We are losing families, kids and inmates. This needs to stop. We have buy-in from the community."

"I am impressed with your handout," Morales said. "Rep. Zimmerman should be credited with helping push this forward.

"Why was the funding vetoed last year?" Morales asked. "How does Tu Casa merge with this program?"

"This idea started with alcohol abuse," Carillo said. "Then we discovered drug abuse probably would work in parallel. We bring the continuums under one umbrella with Tu Casa, so no one is falling through the cracks.

"Once released, they come back to the jails," Carillo said. "Under this program, we will let them know what resources they have. They will be assessed at Tu Casa, so they will know what they need. This program is to help inmates to reduce recidivism. If we don't address the abuse issues, they will return to jail.

"The inmate support program and Tu Casa will parallel and support each other," Carillo said. "What we can't support in inmate support, Tu Casa's programs will."

"We continue to speak with Corrections on this program," Elwell said.

"Let's get an endorsement from a committee to start with," Morales suggested. "I think the language was Grant, Luna and Hidalgo counties. Let's make it the 6th Judicial Court District, which encompasses the same counties, but then it will be viewed as a state program."

"I agree on committee endorsement," Zimmerman said. "That pulls a lot of weight."

The next article will begin the non-profit/community presentations.

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