Health is one of the top predictors of happiness for people across the United States. No matter how much money one has, how well the local economy is producing and how many great schools one has to choose from, a poor health care system that does not reach out to people of all ages and socioeconomic standings can lead to overall poor quality of life. This has been proven for many years in New Mexico, a state that has struggled to break out of the bottom 10 when it comes to rankings for the best states in which to live.
In 2017, New Mexico ranked at number 46 in the Best States Study from U.S. News & World Report. In 2018, it fell a further two spots to number 48. Because education and health care are the two most weighted categories in these studies, it is clear that health care quality and options are somewhat deficient here. The state currently ranks at 35 when it comes to health care without factoring in other categories.
According to America’s Health Rankings from 2019, New Mexico did well in the categories of air pollution and the low death rate from cancer but performed poorly when it came to health needs from violent crimes, poverty, and premature death. Clearly, many of the health concerns here can be chalked up to the high poverty level that affects numerous families, keeping them from such preventative care as immunizations. This poverty can also lead to chronic diseases from poor food choices as well as to obesity, high infant mortality, mental distress, and increased drug use.
Thankfully, New Mexico has many programs in place for combatting these and other issues. Although poverty and poor health care are not overnight fixes, the New Mexico Department of Health operates or cooperates with the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Developmental Disabilities Support Division, the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, and many more evidence-based programs to improve health care from pregnancy and childbirth to old age.
Top Health Problems in New Mexico
In many cases, health problems in this state can be traced back at least in part to the high poverty level found in many counties, particularly those that have large rural areas. In fact, approximately one-third of New Mexico children grow up in households that are below the federal poverty level. Nearly 40 percent of children here live in households receiving Supplement Security Income or another type of governmental assistance. Health problems arising from poverty early in life tend to follow people for years, leading to a variety of physical and mental manifestations over the years.
While infant mortality had remained flat in New Mexico for many years even while rates trended downward throughout the United States as a whole, New Mexico still sees a high number of premature births and labor and delivery complication along with low birth weight babies and infants experiencing Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID)
Many households across the state do not have enough funds to purchase sufficient food or food that has high nutritional value. This can lead to childhood obesity and poor health during the childhood and teenage years
Alcohol, Tobacco and Drug Use
Addictive substance use is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the state. As of 2016, over 16 percent of adults smoked cigarettes while many others used cigars, tobacco or e-cigarettes. Alcohol-related deaths are statistically far higher in New Mexico than they are in the United States as a whole, and drug overdose deaths rate similarly.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults older than 65 here and the second leading cause of death in adults between the ages of 45 and 64. In fact, over 13 percent of New Mexico seniors report having had a heart attack.
Depression and Other Mental Illnesses
Mental illnesses place a great burden on the health care system here while also significantly impacting families and communities as a whole. Hospitalizations for depression in New Mexico climbed dramatically between 2013 and 2016, and the New Mexico Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System estimates that nearly 10 percent of state residents suffer from depression.
Health Insurance in New Mexico
Thanks to changes in health insurance regulations, increasing numbers of New Mexico residents now have health insurance. In fact, since 2001, the number of people without health insurance has dropped by 61 percent. However, the state continues to look at ways that it can provide access to health care for every resident despite socioeconomic levels. This has brought about renewed interest in universal health insurance, which is something that lawmakers have been discussing for the past decade.
Recently, the state legislature earmarked money for researching the possibilities in this area. The state is also looking for ways to improve enrollment in Medicare and Medicaid programs while offering special eligibility checks that can easily be performed on one’s smartphone.
Today, the top health insurance agencies in New Mexico that provide individual and family policies are the following:
-Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico
-Molina Healthcare of New Mexico
-True Health of New Mexico
-New Mexico Health Connection
Major Health Care Systems in New Mexico
New Mexico has several large health care systems that operate hospitals, clinics and other care facilities across the state. Of these, the largest system is the University of New Mexico (UNM) Hospital, which is based in Albuquerque and has 900 physicians and over 2,500 registered nurses. This is the only academic medical center in the state. It also offers a Level 1 trauma center and many pediatric specialty areas. Presbyterian Hospital, also based in Albuquerque, is a nonprofit system that follows right behind the UNM system with 590 physicians and over 1,800 registered nurses.
Other major health care systems and hospitals in the state include the following:
-Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center
-Lovelace Medical Center
-Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center
-Alta Vista Regional Hospital
-Advanced Care Hospital of Southern New Mexico
Overall, New Mexico has 10 critical access hospitals, 14 rural health clinics and 21 short-term hospitals located outside urban areas.
Rural and Urban Health Care in New Mexico
Clearly, the largest hospitals and health care systems in New Mexico are based in the major cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe where a majority of state residents live. However, of the approximately 2 million people living in New Mexico, over 600,000 reside in rural areas. The lack of proper health care in less urbanized areas can lead to an increase in chronic health conditions, pregnancy complications and other health crises over time. The New Mexico Department of Health operates the Office of Primary Care & Rural Health, which works with a variety of programs designed to increase funding to rural health care centers, recruit and retain physicians in rural areas, make improvements to rural hospitals and provide tax credits where possible.
While New Mexico may be in a health crisis of sorts, it is one that can certainly be sorted out over time. Clearly, there are many concerns that play into these far-reaching problems, but lawmakers, researchers and medical professionals are working hard to get better health care to more people across the state, improve health care access even in rural areas, increase preventative health care for infants and children and decrease chronic diseases while improving overall quality of life for New Mexico adults.