Reginald Heber Fitz Hall
The UNM School of Medicine's Basic Medical Sciences Building was renamed and dedicated in honor of the school's first dean, Reginald Heber Fitz, on August 1, 2014.
Credit: Sara Mota

New Mexico is making steady progress in adding doctors, nurses and other providers to meet a growing demand for services, the state’s annual health workforce review has found.

Between 2014 and 2015, New Mexico as a whole saw increases in the numbers of primary care physicians, general surgeons, psychiatrists, obstetrics-gynecology doctors, physician assistants, certified nurse practitioners and dentists.

The 2016 report by New Mexico Health Care Workforce Committee, submitted to the New Mexico Legislature October 1, took a county-by-county look at the number of health care practitioners using data compiled during relicensing for each health profession.

“Our ability to gather detailed licensure data makes us a national leader in assessing the health provider workforce,” said Richard S. Larson, MD, PhD, executive vice chancellor of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, which oversees the committee’s research. “This has given us a powerful tool for identifying and addressing our most pressing health care needs.”

The greatest provider increases were seen in Bernalillo County, where most of the nearly 5,400 physicians practicing in the state are concentrated, but Eddy County in southeastern New Mexico also saw growth in most categories, the report found.

McKinley County, which encompasses mainly rural areas in the western part of the state, saw declines in OB-GYN, psychiatry, dentistry and pharmacy, but increased numbers of primary care providers.

Overall, New Mexico saw small declines in the numbers of pharmacists and doctors of osteopathy, the report found.

The workforce committee, established by the Legislature in 2012, also provides policymakers with analysis and targeted recommendations for increasing the number of providers, based in most cases on national benchmarks for the optimal number of providers per population.

This year, the committee took a focused look at behavioral health professions and recommended that state licensing bodies expedite licensure by endorsement for social workers, counselors and therapists. It proposed the creation of a planning committee to use telehealth technology to provide behavioral health care in rural areas of the state.

It also urged the development of Medicaid reimbursement mechanisms for behavioral health trainees working in community settings and requested that social workers and counselors be made eligible for the state’s Rural Healthcare Practitioner Tax Credit program.

For other health care professions, the committee suggested maintaining funding for loan-for-service and loan repayment programs at their current levels and using those programs to target professions most needed in rural areas.