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Health office on list of County Council’s legislative priorities

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By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos County Council has put the full reinstatement of a state public health office for the county on its list of legislative priorities.

Citing budget cut backs and data supporting not enough need in the community, the New Mexico Department of Health cut hours and staff at its Diamond Avenue office in 2016, and transferred most of those service to its Española branch.

The department based its decision on data it received about the number of times the office is actually used to counsel Los Alamos teens on unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.  

The office, which is located across the street from the high school, was seen as a place for teens to go for confidential advice and services. The county pays for the space for the office, and is has been asking the state to restore the office to full-service.

“It’s something we’ve been working on since they shut down, or effectively shut down the one we’ve got, having our teenagers drive to Española to get some confidential help,” Councilor Rick Reiss said.

Reiss also said the request is also more than just about getting their health office back, it’s about having the state meet its obligations to its citizens.

“There is this trend at the state level to push costs back to the counties, health costs in particular,” Reiss said.

While there have been meetings with the health department on the issue since 2016, Reiss said for the most part, no headway has been made.

“They really have an antagonistic viewpoint on this,” Reiss said. “It’s like ‘you will provide an office. It doesn’t mean that we need to show up. You will have a pharmacy, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to keep any drugs up there because you have to be there everyday.’ They’re making it worse for us, and it’s costing us money.”

He points to the fact that the county isn’t the only county in New Mexico that feels that way as far as providing medical care goes. The New Mexico Association of Counties has the healthcare issue listed in its priorities also.

“Support the significant involvement of county policy makers in federal, state, and local healthcare, human services, and Medicaid planning, funding, and service delivery decision making, and oppose any measure that would further shift federal and state healthcare costs to county government,” read a statement in NMAC’s list of priorities.

Los Alamos County Community Services Department Director Brian Brogan said his department is continuing to support changes the state health department has made.

“We’re still supporting the PHO office like we always did,” Brogan said. “We’re looking at different ways to provide the service and exploring options. That’s where we’re at right now.”

Part of those options include expanding the hours of the Los Alamos PHO, Brogan said.

The Los Alamos County PHO Office is open the first and third Tuesday of the month, 9-4 p.m.

Services it offers include STD screening by protocol, depending on risk factors, family planning, TB treatment and other services. A representative for WIC, the food program for women infants and children, visits once a month.

The Los Alamos branch of the health office is located almost directly across from the high school at 1183 Diamond Drive, Suite D. Along with cutting its hours, NMPHO decided to move the sexually transmitted disease and birth control  services to its Española office. The WIC nutrition program will continue on the second Thursday of each month by appointment only. Children’s Medical Services will continue to be provided at the Los Alamos office.

For more information, call 662-4038, or log onto nmhealth.org for more information.