The bill proposal would support diversity, equity and inclusion programs at UNM Health Sciences

A New Mexico lawmaker introduced one-time funding to support programs to increase diversity in the state’s health care workforce.

Congresswoman Pamelia Herndon (D-Albuquerque) pre-filed House Bill 35, which seeks a one-time appropriation of $1.1 million to support Communities to Career programs at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

“It’s all about trying to increase the number of people of color going into medicine,” Herndon said.

The UNM Health Sciences Center’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion maintains a range of programs offered to individuals in kindergarten through college graduates.

The programs offer networking, mentoring and training for students who are underrepresented in the medical field.

This includes students with disabilities, first-generation students, LGBTQ+ students, Black, Indigenous and other people of color, according to its website.

The programs address care gaps in the state, said Dr. Valerie Romero-Legott, vice president and executive director for diversity, equity and inclusion at UNM Health Sciences.

“With New Mexico lacking thousands of healthcare workers, it is encouraging to see the NM Legislature consider funding long-standing, specialized programs that help close this gap and improve the health and well-being of our communities,” said Romero- Legot in a written statement.

The Communities to Career programs are 12 programs that are offered free of charge to participants and provide scholarships or bursaries.

Dr. Erika Garcia, a family physician in Clovis, said her experience using the programs has been critical to her career. She made that clear in a video created by UNM Health Sciences to introduce the Communities to Careers program “.

Garcia has also been involved as a mentor and said these programs “work 100 percent.” For her, the programs allow health care providers to reflect their patients in their communities and address disparities in the medical field.

“When people see my name, Dr. Garcia, they see that I’m a woman, that I’m Hispanic, they feel more comfortable coming to me,” Garcia said. “They feel their health care needs will be met.”

Data from a New Mexico health care workforce study presented to the 2021 Interim Legislative Committee on Health and Human Services shows the state has a shortage of health care providers, including nurses and primary care physicians. especially in the rural parts of the state.

As of a 2020 survey, three-quarters of the state’s primary care physicians are non-Hispanic, and more than 75 percent of those in the position identify as white or Caucasian.

Racism in health care and health care disparities from poverty and environmental health have real consequences for people’s well-being, according to years of research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Communities and Careers programs aim to build a pool of bilingual, first-generation and younger providers from rural and urban areas, according to an October memo describing the program.

The program aims to address care shortages and offer deeper patient-provider relationships and improved health outcomes.

In 2023, Republican officials nationally moved to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in higher education, the federal government, and state agencies nationwide.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (often abbreviated to DEI) is a catch-all term that often refers to equitable educational programs to address the disparity between white and non-white people.

Herndon said he is waiting to see if there is any announcement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to ensure there is funding for HB 35 in the upcoming legislative budget session.

“Fortunately, so far [I] I didn’t get pushed back in New Mexico for the title,” Herndon said.

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