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State Shows Desire To Enhance Public Health Office

on March 28, 2019 - 9:41am

LAHS students Sophia Vandenkieboom, Gracie Swensen and Isabella Hodges speak to council about the need to extend hours at the local health office. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/


Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos County may once again have a fully-functioning Public Health Office.

County Manager Harry Burgess provided an update on the state funding of the public health office during the March 19 Los Alamos County Council meeting.

He said Rep. Christine Chandler informed him during the legislative session that “the representatives have been given the opportunity to allocate certain ongoing or reoccurring monies as oppose to the typical capital outlay process. And her initial recommendation was maybe she could get some money for our public health office … that allocation of funds was ultimately passed by both houses and it is awaiting the governor’s signature right now, so it has not become enacted yet. But my understanding is that she (Chandler) set aside a request for $150,000 a year for the (New Mexico Department of Health) to operate a … public health office in our community.”

The deputy secretary of the department of health recently toured the local office and confirmed the direction was to reestablish the public health office, Burgess said.

According to agenda documents, the hours of operations are very limited at the local health office. The lobby is opened 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday to schedule appointments. The office just sees for women, infants and children 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of the month and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the second Thursday of the month.

The health office provides everything from immunizations and family planning to STD screenings and tuberculosis treatment, according to agenda documents.

During public comment, Los Alamos High School students Sophia Vandenkieboom, Gracie Swensen and Isabella Hodges made a case to extend the hours at the public health office.

As part of a class assignment, Hodges said they conducted a survey, asking their peers whether they would take advantage of the public health office. Hodges reported that 67 percent said yes that the health office would be beneficial, and 85 percent said extending office hours would benefit the whole community. 

An RFP has been issued seeking a private practice to operate the public health office and County staff is now considering how these services could be integrated in light of the recent development from the state, Burgess said.

If the bill does not get signed, Burgess said that it would still be in the health department’s interest to expand the office but that would take longer to accomplish.

Swensen said that a friend had experienced reproductive health issues and discussing it with her parents made her uncomfortable. Swensen accompanied her friend to the public health office and said it took her friend five tries to finally get into the office and she was ultimately referred to the Espanola public health office for treatment.

“So, a public health care center across from the high school would benefit our high school greatly,” Swensen said.

Vandenkieboom told councilors, “So, we value our student body’s heath and I think we can all agree as a community that putting a county-founded clinic off until DOH steps up ignores our community’s current needs.”

Getting the public health office to extend its hours is just one of the many items on the Community Services Department’s to-do list. Department Director Brian Brogan presented to council about the County’s social services division and its goals for the future.

Brogan pointed out that the new council made social services one of its strategic leadership goals. According to his presentation, “Behavioral health, physical health, and social services are important quality-of-life components; they are key areas where appropriate types of County support could help address current needs.”

To do this, Brogan listed objectives the division are planning to achieve:

  • Complete a gap analysis;
  • Maintain level of services with social services department service providers;
  • Host community workshops such as resume building, life skills and diabetes;
  • Explore expanding infrastructure and potential colocation of the social services division such as adding a Tween Center, a Young Adult and Adult Basic Needs Center and an Infant Center;
  • Social Services becoming a centralized hub for referrals to other agencies;
  • Affordable Housing; and
  • Reestablish Public Health Office to full services.

The purpose behind the gap analysis, according to Brogan’s presentation, is to provide empirical evidence that shows:

  • The issues that exist in the community;
  • Who is being negatively impacted;
  • How many need services exist in the County;
  • What services are offered;
  • Who is offering the services;
  • What services are needed; and
  • Prioritization of all services.

In addition to pursuing the gap analysis, Brogan said his staff are exploring the idea of colocation.

The benefit of collocating services includes:

  • One Stop Shop (Hub) for specific focus areas;
  • Shared common spaces;
  • Increased efficiencies;
  • Diminished costs; and
  • Improved accessibility to services for the public.