Area residents sound off on health care issues

By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer

Norma Rey Vazquez de Houdek does not advocate gun control. That is a political issue. She says she is concerned about the people issue. New Mexico ranks fourth in the nation for teen suicides, losing one person a day.

“When we live in a state that is so diverse, like New Mexico, guns are a part of our culture, especially with hunting,” said Vazquez de Houdek, a youth suicide prevention coordinator with the New Mexico Department of Health. “I do not advocate gun control. What I say is, ‘If you own a gun, most adolescents know how to gain access to it, and so if you have a person in your household that is depressed or has a substance abuse problem, remove the guns or bullets, or lock them.”

Teen suicide emerged as one of several major issues of concern on Thursday as local residents had an opportunity to be heard in the first of eight regional New Mexico State Comprehensive Strategic Health Plan meetings. Recognizing that each community has different health care needs and concerns, the meetings are all about getting everyone involved in the governor’s strategic health plan which has been in law since 2004 and will be updated every four years. The strategic health plan emphasizes prevention, personal responsibility, access and quality of health care.

About 30 local residents, from Roosevelt, Curry, Lea and Eddy counties, most working in health care-related agencies, attended the regional, day-long meeting at the Memorial Building in Portales. The meeting is just one step in a process which will give all New Mexico residents several methods of having their voices heard up until June 1. Information will then become available on Sept. 1 to Gov. Bill Richardson, the state legislature, local entities and private individuals who will also have access to the information via the Internet.

Although health care funding is a concern on a state and nationwide level, Patsy Nelson, a consultant and former long-time Department of Health worker, said, “Solutions have to be local!”

During the meeting, participants broke out into chapters or groups, and addressed specific topics, in the end, boiling them down to three or four major concerns which will also be documented.

Espy Garcia, of the Mental Health Resources (MHR) office in Clovis, said, “I am here today, because as a health care provider, I don’t have a say in the procedures and what is implemented. By being here, I can give my input about the system.”

Julie Villanueva, an employee with MHR in Portales, agreed, saying, “”We work with the kids who have a lot of needs which are on this board,” she said pointing to a list of concerns written down. “By being here, we have a voice.”

Teen pregnancy was a major issue. Curry County ranks fourth in the state in teen births. Other issues addressed were health care coverage when crossing state or country lines, communication between emergency care entities, childhood obesity, behavior and environmental problems, long-term health care and health insurance coverage overall.

The issue of teen suicide drew the most discussion. One man stated, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and Vazquez de Houdek pointed out, “Most people who attempt suicide do not want to die. They just want to end the pain.” She noted that the most troubling part of the problem is that victims are getting younger.

“In New Mexico, there was a 10-year-old who committed suicide last year. I even have kindergarten teachers asking me for help on how to deal with students concerning this issue,” She said.

One woman, Linda Monk, Region 4 Director of Public Health, mentioned a suicide pact that occurred in Eddy County in which more than one person agreed to commit suicide and Nathan Padilla, a social worker and substance abuse counselor from Roswell, said, “I think there’s not enough family unity. I’m a single father and I’m in my son’s business. I know all of his friends and a lot of times, we’re so stuck on materialistic things. There needs to be more family time and parenting skills.”

Four additional meeting will be held throughout the state as well as three meetings which will be held on Native American reservations.
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