By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer
Teen pregnancies, drug use and a lack of local mental health services were major concerns that New Mexico Secretary of Health, Michelle Lujan Grisham and an entourage, discussed at La Casa Family Health Center on Tuesday.
The planned visit to Portales, as well as one held at the public health office in Clovis on Tuesday, were part of a tour by the New Mexico Department of Health. Grisham, along with members of her Santa Fe office and two representatives from the Roswell office, are visiting the 55 public health facilities in New Mexico to see what the facility needs are and what the Department of Health can do to make their jobs better in order to better serve the public.
Grisham was appointed to the state office last August by Gov. Bill Richardson.
“We are not here today to take action or hold a formal hearing, but to talk openly about issues,” Grisham said. “Government is often viewed as being big and monolithic in Santa Fe. I want to break that (perception) by coming out and taking a look to see what we can do to make their jobs better.”
Karol Morgan, the nurse manager for La Casa, led the tour and then Seferino Montaño, CEO of La Casa, gave the entourage an overview of the history of La Casa and its services.
“We see anyone who walks in our door, by virtue of our mission,” Montaño said. “We have a 100-mile radius where we see patients from and we accept Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. We will continue to focus to ensure that our patients don’t fall through the cracks.”
According to Montaño, Roosevelt County is the only county La Casa serves that does not defray the cost of indigent primary care. He said the other facilities are paid by contractors through their respective county indigent care funds.
A better part of the discussion centered around Roosevelt County’s teen pregnancy rate, as well as a drug abuse problem and lack of local mental health services.
The average teen pregnancy rate in New Mexico in 2003, the latest data available from the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition, is 61.1 births per 1,000 women age 15-19. Roosevelt County’s rate is 67.6 births per 1,000 teens, ranking it 10th among the state’s 33 counties.
Grisham attributed the teen pregnancy rates to possible perceptions or misconceptions about family planning.
“In this community, I fear that people have a sense that if you bring family planning in, that is promoting (sexual activity), but the facts speak for themselves,” Grisham said. “We don’t talk enough about how to prevent it.”
“We do want them to say no (to sex) and promote abstinence, but when they don’t have options, then they do need birth control,” she said.
Grisham also emphasized that parents can and should have ultimate control but suggested that they need to be educated more as well.
According to Morgan, drug use is also a major health concern in the area, and Montaño said that based on conversations he has had with educators, schools are also seeing the effects of drugs on kids.
Morgan said that during the nine years she has been with La Casa, she has had more than 200 patients test positive for Hepatitis C, a disease often contracted by injecting drugs.
“I think we have an epidemic,” Morgan said.
Following the visit to Portales, the public health department entourage will visit public health facilities in Fort Sumner, Santa Rosa and Tucumcari today.