N.M. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks at a rally for reproductive rights at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque following the Supreme Court ruling that ended nearly 50 years of national protections for abortion rights under the U.S. Constitution on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt for Source NM)
The excitement following the governor’s promise to put $10 million toward a reproductive health clinic in southern New Mexico is peppered with the reality that there is a serious health care worker shortage in the state.
When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the investment Wednesday in an executive order, she paraphrased a famous line from a baseball movie, “If we build it they will come.”
But New Mexico needs more than a field of dreams. Real health care workers will have to handle the influx of patients seeking reproductive care.
That sentiment was shared by people working on the front lines of reproductive health across the state who have reported an increase in patients as high as 150% since the Dobbs ruling in June when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal protections for abortions.
“Being understaffed for that but still trying to meet the need has been super exhausting for our staff,” said an abortion clinic employee who declined to be named out of safety concerns.
Lujan Grisham’s proposal is for the state to build the facility, but a contracted service provider would run day-to-day operations. She indicated it will likely be built in Las Cruces or somewhere in Doña Ana County. It could be run by someone from another state or from New Mexico.
The money would be part of the governor’s capital outlay priorities next year. There likely wouldn’t be much pushback from legislators in a Roundhouse that typically skews heavily Democrat.
But Lujan Grisham has to win re-election before she can commit money next year.
In a statement, her GOP opponent Mark Ronchetti denounced the investment and affirmed his stance that he would propose to ban abortion after 15-weeks.
In the meantime, medical professionals, advocates and abortion funds are still hustling to meet demand and are excited for the idea about a clinic opening in southern New Mexico.
“We’ve been saying very loud and clear that New Mexico has had abortion access in the past, but there have been gaps in the care that has been provided,” Luzhilda Campos policy co-director with Bold Futures, an organization that’s lately focused its work in southern New Mexico.
Campos wants to ensure community needs are met. For her that means cultural competency, language access and assistance for anyone who has to travel from rural areas.
“Living in the southern part of New Mexico, abortion care and reproductive health care is not as accessible as in other areas of our state. So just having the clinic there is huge,” Campos said. “Being able to have more, not just the abortion care, but a clinic that encompasses more than just abortion, a full spectrum of reproductive health care, is huge.”
Rep. Melanie Stansbury hosted a roundtable with people invested in providing abortion access in New Mexico. While it appears her district won’t receive money for the new clinic, she is adamant that staffing issues need to be addressed statewide.
“We have a shortage of providers. There’s major barriers, irrespective of what’s happening in policy and in the budget, just for individuals who need access to care,” she said. “New Mexico has a health care provider shortage overall. And one of the big challenges, especially in our rural areas, is that we don’t have access to a lot of health care clinics of any kind.”
Stansbury said one thing her office does to help overburdened health clinics is to make it easier for them to get reimbursements from federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare.
In the long term she said, “We really got to build a health care pipeline for New Mexico.”
The Doña Ana clinic will need to attract numerous specialists if it will uphold its commitment to providing full service care, such as contraception and checkups, family planning, prenatal care, labor and delivery, postpartum care and support, lactation counseling and support, abortion, and appropriate medical management of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
Groups are already making their way south. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which was at the center of the Dobbs ruling, moved their clinic to Las Cruces as Mississippi’s trigger law took effect. Planned Parenthood is also planning to move resources to the area.
“The southern part of New Mexico has lacked access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care for generations. Directing money to help our southern New Mexico families is critical for patient care,” said Kayla Herring with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
In her remarks, Lujan Grisham did note the need for continuous training and to build on partnerships such as with the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State and the UNM School of Medicine. “To do residencies and clinical training for primary care and women’s specialists is critical,” she said.
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