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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU/UNM work on project to enhance health care in counties across New Mexico

Leaders at New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico have developed a proposal to use the statewide network of Cooperative Extension Service offices to bring a new level of health services to New Mexicans.

The proposal received enthusiastic support during the Sept. 8 joint meeting in Albuquerque of the boards of regents of both universities.

"This is monumental," said NMSU Board of Regents Vice Chairman Robert Gallagher. "I don't think anything is more important. I think this initiative would do so much for our state."

As proposed, the initiative would establish Health Extension Rural Offices throughout New Mexico. The HEROs, based in existing Extension offices in each county, would become a bridge between communities and health experts and resources at both universities.

"We'll maintain the integrity of an Extension model in place, but at the same time bring the best of health care expertise from both institutions to the communities," said Paul Gutierrez, NMSU's vice provost for outreach services and associate dean and associate director of the Cooperative Extension Service.

The UNM Health Sciences Center will be the lead agency in the proposal, with NMSU acting as a supporting partner. Other partners will be the UNM Office of Community Health and NMSU's College of Health and Social Services.

"I look at NMSU's model of Cooperative Extension and it's so powerful," said Dr. Arthur Kaufman, vice president for community health and a professor of family and community medicine at UNM's Health Sciences Center.

The proposal would create a way for UNM to reach out, especially to underserved rural areas, with its expertise and innovation. A primary focus would be on prevention and ensuring everyone has more regular access to health care professionals, Kaufman said.

Initially, 12-15 Extension Health Agents would be hired and based in HEROs across the state. The agents would serve as a link between the universities and the public; community agencies and organizations; and providers such as schools, clinics and public health offices. Agents also will coordinate with the local Department of Health and DOH-funded County Health Councils.

Agents' goals would be to create health initiatives based on local needs and establish partnerships among key groups. They would work to integrate health-related services and programs and help talented youth finish school and enter health careers. Health agents would be able to identify and access resources at UNM and NMSU that could be used to address health and development priorities set by the communities.

The proposal was one of four joint legislative initiatives discussed at the regents' meeting. Earlier this year, the New Mexico Legislature approved $50,000 for planning the HERO project. The full project will be presented to legislators for consideration at their 2008 session, which begins in January.