Earlier this week, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) invited Charles Alfero, a leading expert in rural and frontier community health delivery from Silver City, N.M., to address Senate Democrats at a roundtable discussion on rural hospitals.
Alfero is a founder and former CEO of Hidalgo Medical Services (HMS), which opened in 1995. HMS employs over 200 providers and support staff at its 14 primary care health clinics in Hidalgo and Grant Counties, which provide integrated primary medical, dental, mental health and family support services. He is now Director of the Southwest Center for Health Innovation and the New Mexico Primary Care Training Consortium.
"I was proud to have Mr. Alfero share the view from New Mexico," said Heinrich. "At a time when rural health providers across our nation face many challenges, Hidalgo Medical Services is a great example of how to bring coordinated care to patients in rural communities. I have heard from many New Mexicans who have told me how access to health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion has helped their families and even saved their lives. Throwing all of that away will have a very real cost for hundreds of thousands of New Mexico families. We cannot allow hospitals and clinics that provide the only health care for miles and hundreds of jobs in our rural communities to close. Denying a family the ability to see their doctor and pay for their medication and treatment--denying whole communities in New Mexico an accessible health care facility--is completely immoral."
Thanks in large part to the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid expansion, Alfero said HMS has been able to set up a primary care system, create a statewide innovation model, and train providers at its rural clinics. If Republicans in Washington follow through with their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, however, many rural hospitals and community health clinics that are already operating on the margins may have to shut their doors.
"Without the Affordable Care Act, about 266,000 New Mexicans will lose health insurance coverage. Our state will lose over 30,000 jobs, $2.3 billion in federal health care dollars, and about 3 to 4 percent of our state's economy. The primary care emphasis in the ACA has benefited us tremendously. We started Hidalgo Medical Services in a county that had no medical services for 10 years before we opened. We won't have that problem again if we can continue to train providers in rural New Mexico and focus on comprehensive primary care," said Alfero during the roundtable discussion in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Heinrich is committed to improving health care access and outcomes in New Mexico's rural communities. In the fall, Heinrich visited hospitals in Guadalupe, Union, Harding, and Colfax Counties as part of a multi-day rural health care listening tour in northeastern New Mexico. Heinrich met with medical professionals, toured local facilities, and discussed ways to strengthen access and delivery of care and the challenges of providing health care to rural communities in New Mexico.
In November, Heinrich welcomed the passage of the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, a bill Heinrich cosponsored to boost access to high-quality health care in hard-to-reach regions. The new law aims to better integrate the University of New Mexico School of Medicine's groundbreaking Project ECHO telehealth model into rural health systems across the country.
Heinrich also supported passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which included critically needed new resources for New Mexico and other states struggling to treat and prevent the growing prescription opioid abuse epidemic. The new law, which was signed into law in December, sets aside $1 billion for competitive grants to supplement ongoing efforts by states to combat the opioid crisis, giving preference to state applicants experiencing a high prevalence of addiction. In 2014, New Mexico had the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.