New Mexico has the second highest rate of poverty among the 50 states and has been ranked at or near the bottom for child well-being, education, and family and community health. Nearly 50 percent of the population lives in a Health Professional Shortage Area.
The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center ( UNMHSC) https://hsc.unm.edu has been working to find better ways to engage state residents in rural areas since this population often finds it difficult to utilize needed resources from UNMHSC.
The UNMHSC Office for Community Health. Agents developed Health Extension Rural Offices (HERO) https://hsc.unm.edu/community/hero. The HEROs recruit and locate agents in different regions across the state. HERO agents link communities, coordinate programs, and also serve as the central point of contact while keeping the university informed on health and social community needs.
The agents live in the communities they serve and work with the different sectors and stakeholders in their communities involved in health education, non-profits, along with people in business, agriculture, and government.
The agents also help to recruit the appropriate health workforce, provide telehealth services for training, bring grants to the community, address local health needs, and create local pipelines into health careers.
Results show that HERO agents have helped bring new family physicians to rural areas, brought mental health first aid to the state, and in addition, each agent has worked with stakeholders from the different local community sectors to help to reduce adverse social determinants.
HERO agents are paid full time employees. Funding for the HEROs comes from the university, county, endowments, contracts, plus federal and other grants. Initial grant funding for HEROs came from the AHRQ “Infrastructure for Maintaining Primary Care Transformation” program which helped small primary care practices become patient-centered medical homes.
AHRQ continued to provide support through their “Translating Research into Localities” (TRaILS) initiative which helped fund the training for primary care practitioners on how to prescribe safe prescribing of opioids. In addition, support was provided by the Commonwealth Fund which helped launch the Health Extension toolkit.
UNMHSC has also partnered with the University of Colorado in a $15 million five year grant from AHRQ called “EvidenceNOW” https://www.ahrq.gov/evidencenow/index.html to help practices adopt evidence-based guidelines in cardiovascular disease prevention.
For more information, go to https://ruralhealthinfo.org/community-health/project.