CHC in jeopardy

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Department of Health announces harsh budget decisions

By Carol A. Clark

New Mexico Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil, announced Tuesday that the Department of Health has had to make difficult decisions about the services it provides to deal with an almost $24.4 million reduction in next year’s budget.

Cuts include nearly $3 million for community health councils.

“We are trying to minimize the impact of our budget cuts as we realize that some of our cuts will affect New Mexicans in almost every community,” Vigil said. “We will continue to provide technical assistance to Community Health Councils …”

This cut in funding will have a major impact on Los Alamos, said Michelangelo Lobato who coordinates the local Community Health Council.

“As of right now, if we lose that funding there probably won’t be a health council,” Lobato said during an interview this morning. “This program is a vital part of our community and something we can’t let die.”

DOH has provided the local CHC $50,000 in annual funding, which covers a portion of the salaries for Lobato and a secretary, he said.

The Los Alamos Family Council, Inc., is the fiscal agent for the CHC, Lobato said, and the entity that augments their salaries.

Lobato sent an e-mail to the CHC membership advising them of the looming cut to its funding. The response has been supportive, he said, adding that the hope is to raise that $50,000 through other means to enable the CHC to continue its service to the community.

The New Mexico Public Health Division, which is one of the biggest divisions in the Department with almost 1,000 people, is operating with a 15 percent vacancy rate. It received a 40 percent cut to its budget for contracts, and its total budget was reduced by about $17.4 million.

As a result, the Division will have to reduce its general fund support to contracts for such programs as, rural primary health care clinics, dental care, family planning, immunizations, maternal child health, harm reduction, school and adolescent health as well as prevention of youth suicide and chronic and infectious diseases.  

“We have to invest in disease treatment first and continue to support our prevention and planning programs as best as we can,” Vigil said. “It does not mean prevention is less important, but we must provide the treatment people immediately need to be healthy.”

The Los Alamos CHC is described as a multi-faceted collaboration focusing on special programs identified by an annual community needs assessment. Programs selected by the countywide council include restorative justice and prevention efforts to combat underage drinking. The health council also sponsors a 24-hour non-crisis information line for programs and services in and around Los Alamos.

The CHC, officially sanctioned through the Los Alamos County Council in February 2003, was created as an opportunity for area resources to join the CHC.

The CHC has provided a place for resource information to be exchanged; assessment information to be gathered, shared and analyzed; and planning and implementation to take place.

Its vision is that consumers, service providers, business interests, local government and youth will work together to ensure that Los Alamos is a healthy place for all who live, work and visit here, according to its Web site.

Its mission is to take the lead in community health improvement through representative membership empowered to identify and address health issues in our community.