Sandoval County Health Commons provides
health services to residents.
The reception desk inside the Health
1500 Idalia NW
Bernalillo, NM 87004
(505) 867 2291
Commons serves many needs
For a poor state, New Mexico has some lavish public
facilities. And for a state with such poor health statistics—including
worst in the nation for prenatal care—well-funded public health
A unique example has for three years been tucked away
at the edge of Bernalillo, hidden behind the Sandoval County Judicial
Complex on Rio Rancho Boulevard. The Health Commons houses multiple
public health agencies in a clean, spacious, enviable office building
that gives hardly a clue as to its many functions. Reading the brochures
and getting a tour of the facility doesn’t much help sort
out exactly who is providing what there.
But it is clear from the steady stream of women and
children being ushered into the inner sanctum that a lot of parents
come to seek help—and expect to find it. Playrooms, crayons,
blocks, and toys are as abundant as files and charts. Most of the
staff are female, and nearly all are bilingual.
In the warren of offices zoned by function are housed
county and state services ranging from Medicaid enrollment and the
federally-funded WIC food program, to family planning, senior services,
immunizations, parenting resources, help with medical bills, screening
for cancer and STDs, women’s health exams, needle exchange,
and public classes including healthy cooking, parenting, scrapbooking,
music, and dance.
The complex is unique in that it integrates seamlessly
what is provided by Sandoval County’s Community Health Alliance,
the state health department’s Public Health Division, and
community providers such as Presbyterian Medical Services.
What this means in practice is that agencies in the
building work together to provide “a continuum of care,”
according to county health department administrator Nicola Baptiste.
The goal is to find and help high-need families—especially
pregnant women and new mothers—before another generation grows
up to develop chronic problems.
If a woman comes in to enroll for Medicaid or WIC,
for example, she will be offered free classes in parenting, child
development, or cooking; medical screening for herself and shots
for her children; a playgroup where she can meet other parents and
talk with community counselors; and (in the near future) dental
screenings and cleanings for herself and her preschool children.
Case workers assess the woman’s need for financial
aid, any indications of domestic violence or behavioral problems
in children, and a half dozen other criteria—and then meet
with each other at the end of the day to share notes and develop
a plan of action.
Services are not limited to poor women and children.
Since the Health Commons houses state and county health programs
as well as the Sandoval Family Support Program, any resident can
get Pap smears, screening for cancer or STDs, domestic violence
counseling, or take classes for free or on a sliding scale—which
is significant at a time when more than a quarter of Sandoval County
residents report not being able to get needed health care. Of that
number, nearly three-quarters have no health insurance, according
to the 2007 Community Health Alliance survey.
“We’re getting a lot of people laid off
from Intel,” Baptiste notes.
She credits a forward-looking County Commission and
the advocacy of County Manager Debbie Hays in helping to advance
the mission of the Maternal Child Health (MCH) council—established
at the county level by a 1991 state law—beyond just prenatal
care. “We realized we couldn’t look at moms and kids
outside the context of the family,” she said.
The county agreed to define health broadly, to include
factors affecting quality of life for the whole family, from financial
need to psychosocial environment.
“We are very lucky to have a county government
that has been absolutely supportive of our mission,” Baptiste
says. And central to that goal was having one building to house
a range of public services.
The county provided the land, and the state allocated
$1.2 million to build the Health Commons, completed in November
2004 and being expanded in phases to include a county transportation
complex (currently just the three bus lines of the Sandoval Easy
Express). The Family Support Program that occupies much of the building
counts among its successes the unique public/private partnership
behind its model of integrated health care.
The Health Commons serves about thirteen hundred people
a month in Sandoval County.
As the nation debates again various proposals for
a universal system of health care coverage, “we definitely
work within the systems as they are,” Baptiste says of the
health alliance. “No one knows what’s coming, but we
feel we can model what works—and what works is integrated
session in January focuses on health care reform proposals
—JEFF RADFORD, CONDENSED FROM DECEMBER
15 CORRALES COMMENT
Health care reform is expected to dominate the 2008
session of the New Mexico Legislature, and Corrales’s State
Senator, Steve Komadina, is already in the thick of it.
He briefed the Mayor and Village Council last month
about the status of proposals to address the state’s health
care dilemmas, saying he was meeting almost daily on the topic.
Senator Komadina said he was awaiting Governor Bill
Richardson’s bill on health care for it to be considered by
his Health and Human Services Interim Committee.
When drafts of the governor’s proposals circulated
this fall, a highlight was mandatory health insurance coverage for
all New Mexicans, similar to mandatory auto insurance for drivers.
That requirement would be buffered by price controls
and other limitations on the insurance industry set by a proposed
New Mexico Health Care Authority.
Komadina explained that Richardson has consistently
opposed a “single payer” system that eliminates the
insurance industry by enrolling nearly all New Mexicans in a single,
state-administered risk pool.
Instead, the Richardson bill to be introduced in the
2008 legislative session will call for creation of the health care
authority to set policy and requirements, but not to run a state
Among the requirements for insurance companies would
be insistence that no one be denied coverage. Companies could no
longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example, and
could not set unreasonably high premiums to exclude people with
serious medical conditions.
According to the Richardson plan, insurance companies
would have to limit their overhead costs to just fifteen percent
of income from premiums. That is, the insurance companies would
have to pay out at least eighty-five percent of what they collect
as premiums for actual patient care.
Four main components make up the Richardson plan:
insurance reform; phased-in participation; transition to electronic
claims and records; and creation of a Health Coverage Authority.
Last November, the Village of Corrales joined 126
other organizations and public bodies in calling for a New Mexico
version of universal health care. The Village Council adopted a
resolution on November 28, 2007 supporting the Health Security Act
which will be introduced again in the 2008 session of the New Mexico
The resolution calls for “a comprehensive solution
enabling New Mexico to set up its own health care plan that would
guarantee that all New Mexicans—regardless of age, employment,
or health status—will have comprehensive, affordable, and
quality health coverage.”
The Corrales-based Health Security for New Mexicans
Campaign has built grass-roots support for the bill over the past
six years. The resolution from the Corrales council was part of
that process aimed at lobbying for passage of the act.
If that bill, rather than the governor’s, passes
and subsequent economic analyses demonstrate it can be funded, citizens
of New Mexico would have universal health care within four years.
A fact sheet on the Health Security Act (available
from Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign, PO Box 2606, Corrales
NM 87048) provides more details about the proposal. It explains
the act’s “go slow” approach to implementation
and provisions for cancelling it if it can’t be implemented.
It will take three years before the plan may be ready to begin operations.
The fact sheet explains that the act would “guarantee choice
of provider even across state lines; guarantee a good benefit package
that must be as comprehensive as the services offered state employees;
preserve the private delivery system (private physicians, hospitals,
etc.); and provide strong protections for retirees.”
Corrales’s Mary Feldblum reported to the Sandoval
County Commission this summer on progress toward health care reform,
offering an update on the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign.
She thanked the commission for its earlier endorsement of the legislation
her coalition has developed with input from around the state. Feldblum
said a few days before her presentation to the commission, “[This
is] a really important decision to make. Are we going to continue
to subsidize a failing private insurance system, or are we going
to do something really different?
“It’s we, the people, of New Mexico that
need to make that decision. It’s not the legislature; it’s
not the governor, it’s us. We’re going to have to live
with the system, so we need to communicate that message loud and
clear to people who are our political servants.”
Feldblum’s report to the County Commission came
amid an intensifying effort to build grass-roots support for health
care reform in New Mexico.
A primary objective of that effort is to explain results
of the recently completed study that compared three models for attaining
universal coverage. Last year, the state legislature authorized
such a comparative study of these models:
• A publicly administered cooperative system
as proposed in the Health Security Act;
• A state-subsidized voucher system whereby
people would buy insurance plans screened by a state agency, as
proposed in the Health Choices Plan; and
• An expansion of existing public programs for
treatment of the uninsured, referred to as the New Mexico Health
This summer, the consulting firm Mathematica Policy
Research released a final draft of its report entitled “Quantitative
and Comparative Analysis of Reform Options for Extending Health
Care Coverage in New Mexico.” Mathematica’s analysts
found that the Health Security proposal would be the least expensive
way to achieve universal medical coverage.
Feldblum explained that “a 1994 New Mexico study
by the independent think-tank The Lewin Group estimated that $4.6
billion could have been saved by 2004 had all New Mexicans been
under one plan by 1997.
Feldblum and other advocates of the Health Security
for New Mexicans Campaign lobbied hard for passage of the bill last
year, but it was eventually sidetracked so that the comparative
study could be done.
“The bill passed its first committee in each
house despite the fact that [Health] Secretary Pam Hyde and the
insurance industry were saying ‘wait for the study.’
That’s ultimately what delayed passage of the act,”
“So now the results of that study are out, and
the Health Security Act is the only model looked at that actually
saves money and covers everyone.”
But that doesn’t mean the act will pass next
time, she warned, because the insurance industry lobbyists are still
very influential, and the governor’s bill would require all
New Mexicans to buy health insurance.
She urged people who want a real overhaul of the health
care system in New Mexico to call their legislators. People can
reach her at the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign by calling