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Local health council announces changes

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The Chaves County Health Council is going through some changes with a new director and a planned move from a home office to a local office building.

“We are growing. We have so much going on right now,” said JoAnn Lopez, who became the new Chaves County Health Council/Chaves County 2-1-1 coordinator in November.

Lopez replaces Jennifer Smith, who will continue to work with the health council as a member.

“I have loved this job and being a driving force behind the Health Council in all the projects we have taken on in the three years that I’ve been coordinator,” Smith wrote in explaining the change.

She added that she thinks Lopez, as a full-time coordinator, will be able to help the council grow more in the years ahead.

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The health council is one of 41 created by the New Mexico Legislature to promote health and wellness among the residents of counties and tribal governments. The councils also educate the public about health issues and gather data and information about the issues affecting the well-being of area residents.

Lopez has become the local health council coordinator after 19 years as the work-based learning coordinator for the Roswell Jobs Corp. She also had served for about a year on a part-time basis as the 2-1-1 community phone line coordinator. Previously it had been run by United Way of Chaves County.

“The year I’ve had it, it has grown like crazy — 2-1-1 is just an amazing three digits. It is kind of like 9-1-1, but 2-1-1 is a free resource hotline.”

She said the health council has assembled a database of organizations and services in the area to help people meet their needs.

For questions that Lopez does not find an answer to, she said she “will send an email out to our organizations and services, and someone will email us back and somehow we will find resources for the person in need.”

She said that calls she has taken have run the gamut from concerns about rent assistance, utility assistance, child care, pet services and COVID-19 care. She also has talked with people who just wanted someone to listen. She added that she encourages area organizations that provide services to the public to let her know, so that she can add them to the database.

“I love being able to give back to the community. The community has done so much for me and my growth and I will do anything that I can to give back,” Lopez said.

She said that the health council seeks to be an inclusive group that welcomes people from all areas and backgrounds who want to improve the well-being of community residents.

“Health is not just focused on physical health,” she said. “That could be your education, your finances, your job, your mental health, every aspect of you as a person. So any type of organization that would be interested in joining the health council, we are looking for you. We need you.”

The group typically holds monthly meetings for the general membership and will hold the next one in early 2022. More information is available on the meetings by contacting Lopez at chavescountyhealthcouncil@outlook.com or by calling 575-500-2294.

In another development, the health council will have its own office space for the first time, at least in recent history. The Chaves County Board of Commissioners approved the lease for the group at its Nov. 18 meeting. The group will move to 1600 S.E. Main St., Suite D-2 by Dec. 1. It plans to be open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. For the 2-1-1 line, Lopez said she answers the phone whenever she is awake and that the organization hopes to one day have it operational 24/7.

Some of the current activities of the health council include a partnership with the University of New Mexico to hold question-and-answer sessions about COVID-19 vaccinations, including those for 5 to 11 year olds.

“We are by no means out to change one person’s mind,” Lopez said. “What we are out to do is to make sure that we are all educated about it with the correct information.”

The council is also part of a program funded by the Kellogg Foundation to create health equity in the community. Lopez said the council has formed a health equity committee that is focusing initially on gathering information about the obstacles area residents face in accessing care.

The council also coordinates the Maze of Life and Chaves County Health Expo each year. It participates in the New Mexico Education Network’s annual institute on Addiction Studies and works in cooperation with various groups in the area to support veterans, the homeless, suicide prevention programs, the Roadrunner Food Bank distribution at the Unity Center and other health, safety and clothing and food security causes.

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.