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New Mexico bill would fund DEI program to combat healthcare shortage
University of New Mexico DEI healthcare careers program

Lawmaker: ‘Diverse’ medical workforce is ‘important’

A New Mexico bill advancing in the House aims to address a major healthcare worker shortage by giving $1.1 million to a university diversity, equity, and inclusion program.

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 9-1 in favor of House Bill 35, sponsored by Democrat state Reps. Pamelya Herndon and Cristina Parajon, on Jan. 23.

The bill would give $1,178,286 to the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for a program that seeks to foster “cultural diversity” in healthcare.

The DEI office’s Communities to Careers program provides support and resources to help “learners from all walks of life, particularly students who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, first-generation college attendees and other underrepresented groups” enter healthcare careers, according to its website.

Among other things, the program also sponsors a Black Health Care Careers Expo “to inspire African American youth to explore health career pathways.”

Valerie Romero-Leggott, executive diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for the UNM Health Sciences Center, told The College Fix in a statement that the legislation will help address a huge gap in healthcare throughout the state.

“With New Mexico short thousands of health care workers, it is encouraging to see the NM Legislature consider funding long-standing, dedicated programs that help close that gap and improve the health and well-being of our communities,” she said email last week.

Romero-Leggott said the Communities to Career program has done a fantastic job helping students pursue a healthcare career by developing confidence and showing them their career is obtainable.

The state currently is “short 1,000 physicians and almost 7,000 nurses,” and the problem likely will grow worse because of the aging population, an October report by NM In Depth estimated.

Herndon and other lawmakers have been focusing on workforce development as a key solution the problem, according to an August 2023 report from the state Legislative Finance Committee.

Herndon said in an interview with NM Political Report that her bill will invest in programs that encourage minority students to study healthcare in college.

“It’s important to have a diverse group of medical providers to address health,” she said.

The Fix contacted Herndon and Parajon several times by phone and email in the past two weeks, but neither responded to requests for comment.

Additionally, The Fix contacted Republican state Sen. Gregg Schmedes, a medical doctor, for his opinion about the bill, but his office did not respond to several requests for comment in the past two weeks.

In 2021, Schmedes opposed legislation that repealed conscience protections for medical workers who have moral objections to things like abortion. At the time, he predicted the legislation would make the state healthcare shortage worse, according to the Los Alamos Reporter.

Elisa Martinez, executive director of the pro-life organization New Mexico Alliance for Life, told The Fix this week that Herndon’s bill just puts a “band aid” on problems that the Democrat-majority legislature created.

“The Democrat progressive majority exacerbated New Mexico’s healthcare crisis in 2021 when they went after doctors and healthcare providers by increasing malpractice payouts and removing conscience protections,” Martinez said.

“Now they want to act like heroes for attempting to address a problem they created. The damage is already done – doctors and medical professionals have left the state for good and this is nothing more than a band aid on an open wound,” she told The Fix.

MORE: ‘Total disgrace:’ LGBTQ nursing course called out for prioritizing activism over healthcare

IMAGE: UNM Health Sciences Center Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion/YouTube

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Kayley Chartier is a student at Fort Hays State University she is pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. She is a member of Students for Life, College Republicans, and the Vice President of her Turning Point USA chapter. She also writes for Campus Reform.