Viruses in New Mexico: Are we ready? by Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD and Dominic Cappello
Every few minutes there is a terrifying news story about the coronavirus outbreak. People are canceling events, from NBA to elementary school basketball. Stores are crowded with people grabbing every last bit of hand sanitizer.
Is this an overreaction? Should we have been warned earlier? If you want to ruin your day, google “Coronavirus conspiracy theories.”
We have collectively worked decades in the public sector and are familiar with how public health and all our federal, state and local governments react to viruses and potential public health threats. The last twenty years has shown us how and when we reacted to major events from HIV/AIDS in 1981 to Ebola in 2014 and Zika in 2016.
This leads us to ask an urgent question, ”How ready is New Mexico for the Coronavirus?”
The second vital question is, “How accessible is medical care for our families?”
We have been spending the last eight months surveying parents in the counties of Doña Ana, Rio Arriba and Socorro, asking to what degree do they have access to vital services like medical care.
In Doña Ana County, 34% of parents needing medical care reported difficulty accessing it. 3 out of 7 respondents said that the difficulty was waiting lists being too long.
In Rio Arriba County, 28.7% of survey respondents who reported needing medical care said that it was difficult accessing it. The reasons were that it costs too much, wait lists too long, no insurance coverage and can’t find a quality provider, inconvenient appointment times, too far to travel, don’t have reliable transportation, and don’t know where to get this service.
Imagine if a life-threatening virus endangers our children, parents and grandparents. Now imagine how badly things will go without access to timely medical services.
With our preliminary data, we don’t have to imagine. A sizable percentage of our extended families won’t get easy access or perhaps none at all in a timely manner.
Our survey of parents asked about access to other services we refer to as survival services such as behavioral health care, safe housing, secure food supports and transportation to these services. It gets even more complicated as a medical issue becomes a transportation issue.
Our recommendations are:
One: Use our 100% Community survey to ask family members in all 33 counties about their access to the services required to prevent and treat a health crisis. We have done this in three counties and one pueblo and know precisely how to do this immediately.
Two: Once survey data reveal which populations and communities lack easy access to medical care, we analyze data to identify why gaps in services exist.
Three: We mobilize county stakeholders to immediately fix gaps in health care and related family services. We have created this mobilizing structure in Doña Ana County and are setting it up on the counties of Rio Arriba, Socorro, San Miguel and Taos Pueblo.
With the support of elected leaders and public health experts coupled with the expertise of the business and technology sectors, a seamless statewide system of healthcare access, customized for each county, to ready us for any public health emergency can be created.
Instead of hoarding cleaning supplies and canned soup, let’s work to bring New Mexicans together to design the best coordinated defense against any public health crisis. We have an opportunity to show how New Mexicans take care of one another.
For more information email us at email@example.com.