DOÑA ANA COUNTY IS COMMITTED TO HEALTH CARE AND BATTLING DWI

DOÑA ANA COUNTY IS COMMITTED TO HEALTH CARE AND BATTLING DWI

A couple of hot-button items – the county’s funding strategy for Memorial Medical Center and a proposed restructuring of the county’s DWI Advisory Council – have been on people’s minds lately. I want to address each of these in hopes of easing Doña Ana County residents’ minds about the process and rationale behind each.

In a June 25 editorial in the Sun-News, the county was chided for contracting with Memorial Medical Center to reinvest county seed funds used to leverage federal health care monies. In point of fact, the county is working closely with Memorial Medical Center and the City of Las Cruces to move toward a solution to MMC’s current crisis.

Historically, the county has been committed not only to MMC, but also to a larger health-care net that keeps thousands of indigent people out of MMC’s emergency room, where health care costs are most expensive for the taxpayers to bear. The county’s contract with MMC, to which both parties agreed, ensures the survival of agencies like La Clinica de la Familia, St. Luke’s and the Ben Archer Health Clinic, all of which receive substantial support from the funds that MMC returns to the county after federal matching funds are received.

When the county commits funds to MMC for the purpose of leveraging federal matching dollars, MMC has agreed to return the original amount to the county to be reinvested in area clinics, ambulance service, hospice and other critical components of the health care system in Doña Ana County. MMC gets about $3 for every dollar the county initially puts in.

For Fiscal Year 2001/2002, approximately $2.9 million total was committed for MMC’s sole community provider funding by Doña Ana County in two separate approvals. The second approval that year was a supplemental contribution made after the state advised us of the opportunity to obtain additional funding. A supplemental contribution of $1.6 million was contributed after MMCI agreed to spend $1.3 million for programs run by MMCI, including First Step, contract medical providers and a residency program; the amount of $2,645,000 was to be remitted to Doña Ana County for health care programs funded through the county’s Health Services Fund.

For Fiscal Year 2002-2003, Doña Ana County committed approximately $3.5 million for sole community provider participation, based upon verbal understanding reached between the parties that MMCI would enter into a similar agreement with the county to direct seed funds back toward certain programs to benefit the sick and indigent. This verbal understanding (to remit $2.9 million to the DAC Health Services Fund) was never put in writing, and MMCI received the sole community funding but did not direct the monies as requested by the county, nor has it (to date) remitted the $2.9 million.

For Fiscal Year 2003-2004, Doña Ana County conditionally committed $3.7 million for sole community provider participation, in exchange for $3.7 million being remitted to the county’s Health Services Fund, which includes MMCI’s commitment to assist the county with improving the general health of its residents for the prior fiscal year as well as for the next fiscal year.

The county’s willingness to participate at such high levels has been to ensure appropriate funding for necessary health care programs in the community. MMC receives about three times the amount the county initially invests. Santa Fe County uses a similar agreement, and the result is the taxpayers are protected from having their resources used primarily for emergency room care, which is exponentially more expensive than clinical, preventive care.

On the topic of DWI, an advertisement in the July 4 edition of the Sun-News may have alarmed the community into thinking that the county is backing away from its commitment to addressing the problem of DWI in our communities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At their July 22 meeting, the Board of County Commissioners was scheduled to select a new, seven-member DWI Advisory Council whose members will meet quarterly to present recommendations for anti-DWI funding priorities. The new council replaces a large, unwieldy entity that had been – for the last six years – comprised of many members whose agencies directly benefited from DWI funding allocations.

In an effort to streamline the council and remove any appearance of a conflict of interest, the Commission has followed the lead of Bernalillo County in writing new bylaws and revisiting the structure of the advisory council.

We anticipate that the changes will result in better accounting of the funds, better reporting of results, more detailed requests for funding and an enhanced network of community members, program providers and law enforcement.

What has not changed one bit is the mission of the program, which is to minimize the threat of DWI in Doña Ana County.

Doña Ana County recognizes and appreciates the efforts of the previous DWI Advisory Council, but the program had grown to the point that it needed to evolve. The new incarnation of the advisory council and the rewriting of the bylaws is an effort on the part of the county to ensure that the community’s priorities are being met. During the next 12 months, Doña Ana County will receive approximately $540,000 in anti-DWI funding that must be carefully allocated to achieve maximum results.

We challenge the critics and naysayers to watch carefully and monitor the process and progress of the revitalized and streamlined process by which anti-DWI funds are allocated for prevention, alternative sentencing, screening, compliance, monitoring and enforcement. The Board of County Commissioners takes the problem of DWI seriously, and the reorganization of the DWI Advisory Council is a positive step forward toward addressing this serious issue in Doña Ana County.