Nursing and hospital leaders repeatedly used the word “crisis” Thursday to describe New Mexico’s shortage of nurses. They spoke to the Senate Finance Committee to request additional money to train more nurses and expand nursing faculty positions at the state’s colleges and universities to accommodate more students. A University of New Mexico study determined at the end of 2020 the state had a shortage of more than 6,200 nurses. Although the shortage has been evident for years, experts said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed gaping holes in the system. Retirements, demand for home schooling of children and departures because of jobs lost by spouses have increased the shortages, said Lillian Montoya, CEO and president of Christus St.
The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines have already arrived in New Mexico. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe received its first shipment of the first COVID-19 vaccine Monday. Christus St. Vincent was one of 145 hospitals in the country to receive the vaccine Monday, according to the hospital’s Facebook page.
Lawmakers face a hard deadline this week to make sure that dozens or even hundreds of nurses can continue working in New Mexico. Legislators have until midnight Friday to approve a new nurse licensing compact, an update to an agreement that allows nurses licensed in other states to practice in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. Hospitals say the compact is key to recruiting in a state facing a shortage of medical professionals. Missing the deadline to join the new system would leave New Mexico with fewer nurses to care for patients, they say. Though not much usually happens during the first days of a legislative session, the high stakes amid a particularly rough flu season have forged what appears to be a bipartisan consensus that lawmakers must approve the compact and fast during their 30-day gathering that begins at noon Tuesday.
Lawmakers looking for every possible penny of new revenue to balance the state budget moved ahead with an omnibus tax package Wednesday over the objections of hospitals and medical providers that claimed paying more to the state would harm health care in New Mexico. House Bill 202 is part of an effort to bring in revenue from the fastest-growing part of the state’s economy — physicians, hospitals and clinics, most of which now pay little or no gross receipts tax. Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said his bill equalizes the tax among the entire health care sector at just over 3 percent — and that amount is paid on just 40 percent of patient revenue. “I don’t know how you can be more fair than everyone in this profession paying the same,” he said. The measure would raise $250 million for the general fund and restore cash reserves to about 4 percent, Trujillo said.
The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a spending plan late Wednesday that boosts funding for classrooms and the courts, while cutting money for colleges and universities and leaving most other agencies with no new money. A companion bill also headed to the Senate, House Bill 202, would raise more revenue for future years by boosting fees and taxes. The $250 million a year in new ongoing revenue is needed to avoid more spending cuts and to replenish cash reserves, said sponsor Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe. “We are bleeding, we need to stop that bleeding,” Trujillo said as he held up a graph showing the state’s diminished reserves. The House approved the revenue measure first, because the proposed budget needs some $157 million in additional money to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.