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Local health council considers joining state initiative

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Members of the Chaves County Health Council are considering joining a statewide health project.

It would help the local group with funding, bolstering research and improving efforts to serve residents, especially underserved groups that often go without health care, food or mental health assistance.

The New Mexico Culture of Health Initiative will sponsor up to six county and tribal chapters, according to information on the New Mexico Department of Health website.

County and tribal health councils in New Mexico were formed in 1991 by the New Mexico Legislature and receive part of their annual funding from the state Health Department. They are established to assess county health needs and develop ways to address them.

The New Mexico Culture of Health Initiative would provide up to $22,500 over two years starting in fall 2020 to each participating county and tribal council. It would collaborate with them on research, community outreach efforts and policy development, with a special emphasis on developing policies and projects to promote health equity.

Chris DeBolt, partnership manager with the New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils, said that participating councils will be chosen by June 22 from among the state’s 33 counties and six tribal councils.

“I am very hopeful that they will participate,” DeBolt said about the Chaves County group. “I think they are primed for this opportunity.”

She added that she thinks it has the resources and capacity to be a good partner in the effort.

The state project is part of the National Culture of Health, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Partners in the state effort include Presbyterian Healthcare Services, the Center for Participatory Research at the University of New Mexico, the Center for Health Innovation and New Ventures Consulting. Technical assistance also will be provided by the national research groups of Public Agenda and Altarum.

Valerie Lopez, chair of the Chaves County Health Council, said that she thought linking up with larger organizations could be a good move.

“That’s what excites me the most,” she said. “We have always said that we wanted to build our capacity and our membership.”

In other discussions, Coordinator Jennifer Smith said that the council had received a $4,000 grant from the Chaves County United Way for its ongoing 2-1-1 community informational system. Right now, it operates as a phone-in service, but the council plans to use the grant money primarily to purchase a computer to develop an online form of the 2-1-1 service.

The council is also planning a virtual Health Expo this year for Sept. 12, with remote or online options chosen due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus situation.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.