Next legislative session ‘make or break’ for NM health councils

As the US government abandoned its response to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, many federally funded public health services were reduced or eliminated.

A large federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allowed groups dedicated to public health in local communities in New Mexico to mitigate the impact of the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. But that grant will expire in May 2024.

Now, a group of New Mexico lawmakers is getting ready to boost state funding to not only supplement the grants, but also fully fund health councils so they can achieve their missions.

Rep. Anthony Ellison (D-Fruitland) said Thursday he will move for the third time to increase the amount of state funding given to the 33 health councils operating in every county in New Mexico and another nine health councils located in tribal nations around the state. Will present law. Who work with the New Mexico Health Department.

“Our work is not done yet,” Allison (Diane) said in a phone interview. “If we’re going down, we’re going down fighting. I believe so much in health councils.”

In the upcoming session she will have the backup of Representative Elizabeth Thomson (D-Albuquerque), who co-sponsored Ellison’s bill to fund public health councils last session. He said the only people who really know what’s happening in local communities and tribal nations are those who are there every day.

“We really need to hear the voices of the people who are living this every day,” Thomson said. “Until they find another way, I think the only way we can really get that important information is from the people who live there, and we need to fund them to do that.”

Ellison said she will also be joined by Sens. Elizabeth Stefaniks (D-Albuquerque) and Sia Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City).

In the Ellison district, where the majority of residents are Diné people, and many others across the state, including pueblos, health councils have been “the front line of defense against COVID,” he said.

Our work is not complete. If we’re going down, we’re going down fighting. I believe so much in health councils.

– Don’t forget to add the author

They serve as public health centers for local communities, and conduct COVID contact tracing. In 2022, health councils held more than 24,000 vaccine equity events, and helped vaccinate more than 345,000 New Mexicans, independent of vaccinations performed by hospitals or other entities.

“Health councils helped with behavioral and mental health, and if we focused on mental health and behavioral health, we wouldn’t have problems with gun violence, domestic violence and things like that,” Allison said.

Without continued funding each year, that work will be disrupted, according to Valeria Alarcon, executive director of New Mexico Coalition of Health Councils,

Next session will ‘make or break’ councils

The upcoming legislative session will decide the future of health councils, Alarcon said.

“This is the legislative session that is going to make or break this vital system of public health,” Alarcon said.

Additionally, the New Mexico Health Department has not included health councils in its proposed budget that lawmakers will consider in January.

As all state agencies do every year, the Health Department submitted its proposed budget for the upcoming financial year to the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) on September 1.

Source New Mexico Reviewed the 141-page appropriations request, and found no specific appropriations for health councils. In a written statement, a spokesperson for the state health department did not directly respond to a question asking if there were any.

“NMDOH is actively pursuing additional funding for health councils, collaborating with partners such as the New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils, the Center for Health Innovation and funders,” said Jody McGinnis Porter, a health department spokesperson. “While these sources have not yet materialized, we remain committed to supporting the health councils.”

Alarcon presented data As recently as September 19 to lawmakers, the amount of state funding for each public health council only covers one part-time worker and is not enough to meet their duties under state law.

McGinnis Porter said the health department has set aside about $6.5 million for health councils over the past three years. That money comes from a grant made possible by a federal law passed in 2021 related to the federal public health emergency, which was declared over earlier this year.

Grant runs out According to the CDC, on May 31, 2024.

It’s like asking NMDOH, health councils – all of us, all these partners – to run a marathon on all these urgent matters in public health, but I’m going to chop off all your legs, so good luck finishing the marathon.

-Valeria Alarcon, executive director of the New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils

The purpose of the end-of-life grant was to “enhance the capacity and technical assistance of health councils to better address community health priorities in the face of COVID,” McGinnis Porter said. It also supported other local groups in bringing about the desired system changes.

“As the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, states are increasingly relying on the state legislature’s general fund to maintain critical systems for our most vulnerable communities,” McGinnis Porter said. “Like many states, New Mexico lacks the ability to fully replace federal funds with state resources.”

The New Mexico Department of Health’s total budget exceeded $771 million this year, with about half funded by the state Legislature and the rest coming from the federal government.

The state has no reason to be stingy with money Billions of dollars saved and billions more Coming from historical oil and gas extraction.

With CDC funding gone and no replacement in place, two-thirds of the health councils could disband in May 2024, Alarcon said. If the Legislature doesn’t fund them, Thompson said, they will run out of people to volunteer for.

“It’s like asking NMDOH, health councils – all of us, all these partners – to run a marathon on all these urgent matters in public health, but I’m going to chop off all your legs, so good luck finishing the marathon,” He said.

Community health scheme at stake

The proposed budget of the Department of Health includes reference to the State Health Improvement Plan, which is informed by reporting from local health councils on deficiencies in local health systems.

The purpose of health councils under state law is to develop community health plans and work with the state to improve the health of communities, McGinnis Porter said. He said the health department launched an initiative in 2021 to improve the plan through community input.

McGinnis Porter said state health officials also lead a workgroup that coordinates more than 200 organizations, including health councils, hospitals, federally qualified health centers and tribal communities.

Source New Mexico It also asked the state health agency how it would create a state health reform plan without health councils that could be disbanded if federal funding ends.

McGinnis Porter said the health department supports collaboration between the agency and health councils that promotes equity and “addresses the social determinants of health as they relate to COVID-19 health disparities among high-risk populations.” belong and those who are deprived.”

However, according to Alarcon, all this work is at stake if the state government does not fund it, and the lack of state investment could harm community members and the health systems they need.

“I don’t understand why, given all the public health priorities and crises in New Mexico, there is a lack of recognition of the value of this work,” Alarcon said.

Ignoring it will not solve the pandemic

In her first session after being elected to the Legislature in 2019, Allison performed a Bill This would have set aside $1 million for health councils. It got through a committee of the House.

In its fifth season earlier this year, Allison tried again And asked for $5.25 million.

Allison’s colleagues on the House Appropriations and Finance Committee voted to table the bill, preventing it from receiving a vote by the House of Representatives. He said he was “assured that I don’t need to worry, that we are going to fund the health councils through the DOH.”

New Mexico to promote COVID vaccines, treatments in private market

Chairman of the Committee told At the time it was a “temporary table” for journalists and funding could be put into the state budget in a later session.

But that did not happen.

“Suddenly, the dice took over for me,” Ellison said. “It’s my own committee, my fellow colleagues, and I told them that I was very, very disappointed with the decision they gave me on the last day, when they always led me to believe that we would be funded. ,

Allison said that over the summer he and his colleagues decided, “You know what, we’re going to make them pay for this.” So the draft legislation will seek $6.6 million in funding annually, which is one and a half times the amount requested last time.

Allison expects a “final plea” from Alarcon and his team at a Legislative Finance Committee hearing in November. Thomson is the vice chair of the interim legislative Health and Human Services Committee, and said she will have a chance to present her priorities to the LFC this month.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic is still happening, “and we won’t be able to solve it if we ignore it.”

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