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NM Health Department requests more state funds as federal support wanes

New Mexico Acting Health Secretary, Dr. David Scrase, in Santa Fe on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022.
Cedar Attanasio
New Mexico Acting Health Secretary, Dr. David Scrase, in Santa Fe on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022.

The New Mexico Department of Health is requesting an 11% bump in state dollars as federal funding for the department shrinks following boosts during the pandemic. The proposal highlights the department's priority of addressing staffing shortages.

Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase told the Legislative Finance Committee Monday that while the Department’s total budget would actually shrink by $600,000 if its request were accepted, the state will need to pull more of the weight.

“As the pandemic funding is coming to an end, and we anticipate the public health emergency being called, there’s some very, very large grants that we’ve gotten now about to run out,” he told the panel of lawmakers.

He said the department’s top priority for the more than $771 million proposal is rebuilding its workforce after its staff bore so much of the brunt of the pandemic.

“We did a survey recently of our own workforce, and about 70% of the people in this particular meeting had had symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD or even suicidal ideation during the course of the pandemic,” he said.

DOH needs to fill about 30% of its positions, according to its presentation to lawmakers. It aims to spend $14 million on recruiting new staff and holding onto those still hanging in there with retention efforts, reclassification and salary hikes.

Scrase told lawmakers that building up the Health Department’s information technology staff is “probably the most important.” Only 1.7% of department staff are in IT, well below the national average of 3.8%, according to Scrase. He said that slows down the department’s work, including data analysis and reporting.

“We have a lot of manual processes in health care where quality and access can be improved and cost-reduced through automation,” he said.

Other budget priorities include marketing, maintaining reproductive healthcare services, and expanding substance use treatment and school-based health care services.

The Your New Mexico Government project is a collaboration between KUNM and New Mexico PBS with support from the Thornburg Foundation.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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