The shortage of healthcare workers has gone from a looming emergency to a full-fledged crisis, especially in states like New Mexico, where there were already understaffed.
Sustained intervention to recruit, train and retain the men and women who do the work of keeping others healthy is needed. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening in this session of the Legislative Assembly. The proposals being considered are well-intentioned but likely fall into the too little, too late category.
In a recent interview, Pamela Blackwell of the New Mexico Hospital Association said new mexican journalist Robert Nott, there are “no comprehensive bills that would effectively address the shortage of health professionals”.
And what a shortage.
A 2020 legislative report said New Mexico needed an additional 6,223 registered nurses. This number likely increased due to the pandemic, when nurses became overworked and overworked. Experts say it will take years to close the gap with current enrollment numbers.
Another report released in August showed that nursing is just one area where New Mexico lacks healthcare workers.
He cited a gap of 328 primary care physicians, 238 certified nurse practitioners, 249 physician assistants, 524 physical therapists, 2,510 emergency medical technicians, 521 pharmacists and 117 psychiatrists.
Anyone who’s tried to get an appointment for a routine checkup or find a new primary care doctor knows this to be true. A shortage of caregivers will make a state where people have many health complications – obesity, diabetes, heart problems – even sicker. Routine care helps prevent problems down the line. This care is suffering both from the pandemic and from the lack of doctors, nurses and other staff who are often just as important.
With more than half of the session over, it is likely that the overall plan to resolve the staffing crisis will be postponed for a year.
Rather than wasting months by 2023, we suggest developing solutions that legislation can address. Use the research expertise of the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, and community colleges. Ask local doctors what they need. Bring in hospital executives for their solutions.
It’s been done before: One of New Mexico’s great successes during the pandemic has been the teamwork that has brought together key medical institutions to triage the COVID-19 problem and act in a reasoned and coordinated manner.
Everyone agrees that the state lacks training programs, facilities, and even the most basic need – nurse educators. Senate Bill 40, sponsored by State Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, seeks $15 million to boost nursing school programs. The problem is that it takes years for such investments to pay off, however necessary they may be.
More immediate results could be achieved by allowing out-of-state registered nurses to work more quickly in New Mexico, streamlining a process that currently takes months. This legislation must pass this session.
Another bill would allocate $750,000 to help nurses pay student loans; other bills would extend a $5,000 tax credit for rural health professionals to chiropractors, midwives and practitioners of oriental medicine who work in remote communities.
None of these proposals are bad – but they are not bold enough to respond to the moment.
If there is a shortage of nurse educators, could retired or exhausted nurses leaving the profession find a new way to serve by teaching?
If public institutions cannot produce enough nurses, why not pay for out-of-state nursing education, with the requirement that new nurses return home or reimburse their tuition?
Can nurses be recruited from out of state, with student loan forgiveness, housing incentives, or bonuses designed to attract them?
How can state and federal government dollars be used to help cover the cost of travel or foreign nurses to work here, providing a more immediate but increasingly expensive solution to the staffing crisis?
What other ideas might work? We need to hear from the medical community telling us what they need.
Solving this shortage of medical personnel will not happen overnight. But unless the state examines the situation comprehensively, the same shortages – only exacerbated – will return to us in five years.