Miners' Colfax Medical Center
Miners' Colfax Medical Center  opened in 1906 in Raton, NM, to provide acute care, long-term care and related services to the beneficiaries of the Miner’s Trust Fund of New Mexico and the people of northeastern New Mexico and surrounding region. 
Credit: Rebecca Gustaf

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Miners' Colfax Medical Center (MCMC) are stepping up efforts to battle mining-related respiratory diseases, thanks to a $1.5-million gift from the Raton hospital. The gift will fund an Endowed Chair in Mining-Related Lung Disease, to be held by UNM pulmonologist Akshay Sood, MD.

Sood, a professor in the UNM School of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, has been working with MCMC for years to address pulmonary diseases associated with the coal and uranium mining industries. Sood’s appointment will sharpen UNM’s and MCMC’s focus on black lung disease, a scourge that develops from inhaling coal dust.

“This is an important continuation of our 114 years of preventive and proactive care for miners through research-based medicine,” says MCMC CEO Shawn Lerch. “This will go a long way in positively affecting miners’ care.”

MCMC opened in 1906 in Raton, N.M. to provide acute care, long-term care and related services to the beneficiaries of the Miner’s Trust Fund of New Mexico and the people of northeastern New Mexico and surrounding region. The hospital is known for treating miners with lung disease.

Sood, who travels from UNM to MCMC monthly to see patients, points to development of a mobile screening service as a groundbreaking collaborative success. The unit travels throughout New Mexico mining communities, holding town halls and then performing pulmonary tests and chest imaging. The screening service is connected by satellite to experts in miners’ diseases across the globe, making full use of telehealth technology.

“Our combined mission is to improve the health and safety of miners, and we take this mission very seriously,” says Sood. “Black lung can manifest 30 to 40 years after dust exposure stops, and we’re still seeing it in small mining communities throughout New Mexico."

Sood says that MCMC’s program combining statewide mobile screening and clinic efforts with ongoing research appears to show comorbidity of metabolic disease and higher rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than previously documented. 

"That is a strong argument for forming a national research center for miners, while expanding the program regionally and ultimately across the country," he says. “Our collaborative program is unlike any in the U.S. This endowment will build on our existing relationship and strengthen community engagement to include counseling of miners’ benefits. It also will help attract faculty of national stature to work in clinical research and community engagement aspects of miners’ disease.”