April 15, 2016

School clinics want answers after state pulls funding

Five health clinics located in public schools will see a complete stripping of their state funding, likely leading all five to shut down.

Health_pictogramThe cuts, announced by the state Department of Health earlier this month, come as part of several money-tightening measures placed in the state budget this year amid declining oil and gas revenues. The budget, passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, cut $300,000 for school-based health clinics.

Now critics are panning state health department officials for a lack of transparency in how they decided to issue all of the cuts to a handful of 53 such clinics across the state.

“The criteria they used is still unknown to us,” state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said in an interview. “And it’s just not right.”

The Democrat has often clashed with Martinez.

Nancy Rodriguez, executive director of the New Mexico Alliance for School-Based Health Centers, says many of the clinics have been left in the dark about the process.

“What I’m hearing from the community is they want to understand how [the health department] made these decisions,” she said.

Two spokesman for the health department did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment from NM Political Report.

But, according to four health department press releases from last week, the cuts are “in part, based on sustainability” and list the number of patients four of the clinics treated between July, 2015 and February, 2016.

Along with Belen High School, health clinics in Albuquerque’s Roosevelt Middle School and School on Wheels, Maxwell Municipal Schools and Mustang Health Center at Mountainair Middle and High School will also lose their state funding starting July 1. The health department release says they will see students through the end of this school year. They add the clinics will not accept new patients from now on.

In descending order, the health department says that Belen High School treated “about 115” students, Maxwell Municipal Schools treated “about 40 students,” Roosevelt Middle School treated “about 30 students” and Mountainair Middle School treated 14 patients.

Sanchez, a Democrat, represents the area where one of the health clinics—Belen High School—will lose funding. The Belen clinic, which couldn’t be reached before press time, is planning to appeal the decision to the state, according to Sanchez.

He and advocates of school-based health centers, say these numbers don’t provide the full picture.

“What isn’t factored into it is that the clinic is only open two days a week,” Sanchez said.

He also takes issue with the health department instructing students who used Belen High School’s clinic to soon use First Choice Community Healthcare, which according to the department press release is located “across the street from the school.”

First Choice is in fact close to a mile away from Belen High School.

“That shows how much they know,” Sanchez said.

Rodriguez also emphasizes that the department-cited statistics don’t include the number of times patients visited the clinic.

“Even if you’re seeing a kid for behavioral health once a month,” Rodriguez said in an interview. “They might have six visits even only if they’re visiting monthly, and some kids visit weekly.”

The state’s 53 school-based health clinics currently they receive roughly $50,000 each year from the state on average, which makes up half of their budget or more.

Some advocates accept parts of the cuts. Carol Pierce, program manager for Envision New Mexico, works with the clinic at Roosevelt Middle School, where she says there’s in general “not a demand for medical services.”

Attempts to get more students to use that school’s clinic, including a letter sent to all parents from the school nurse about availability at the clinic, didn’t do much.

“We would rather use the resources where they’re needed,” Pierce said. “We want kids to be served and it just hasn’t worked.”

That doesn’t mean, she adds, that “we’re not sad.”