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OPINION: Patients of a Lesser God or Victims of an Unjust Bureaucracy? -Yolanda R Diaz

https://newmexicosun.com/stories/2023/dec

Did you know that if you are a Doña Ana County (DAC) resident without health insurance coverage, and are diagnosed with cancer, you will be denied an appointment and ultimately denied life-saving cancer treatment at Memorial Medical Cancer Center (MMC)? Most folks I ask answer, shockingly, “No!” Yet the residents who have experienced this devastating denial can substantiate this as their reality.  

While we govern with the notion of separation of church and state, God is still front and center in our everyday lives.  “In God We Trust” is our nation’s motto/on our currency.  The NM Constitution preamble and pledge of allegiance mention God.

Regarding healthcare access, I emphatically believe our leaders have forgotten their responsibility to those they serve. The depths of the problem may be unknown to some leaders and residents; however, these leaders are the source for solutions to reduce the cruel, unbelievable inequities and disparities in health care access in DAC. Health care is not a privilege reserved for the wealthy; it is a human need. No one human is superior to another in terms of getting an illness, nor should one be superior in receiving treatment for such. How did this become such a problem? 

Social determinants of health plus the demographics of DAC create these unaddressed issues. The injustice begins at the top levels of our government and trickles down to the ground level of health care. Our public hospital, Memorial General Hospital opened in 1950.  A looming crisis in 2003, as MMC was losing $1Million/month, put the city/county at risk of destabilization of the health care system. Their solution was to lease our public hospital to a private entity. This historical event was critical to the access of health care difficulties we experience today.

New Mexico statutes state that the responsibility for indigent care falls to the counties. Circumstances changed once the public hospital was leased. The County/City managers have a seat on the MMC board to provide oversight and accountability to lease compliance. The lessee was supposed to maintain the status quo of the public hospital to provide indigent care and continuation of services as the lease states. Yet, these responsibilities have not been 

upheld by lessors or lessee, as the medical denials show.

The decline in indigent healthcare services shows the failure of our leadership. County leadership, in addition to being 50% lessor, has Health and Human Services (HHS) that has not upheld its own mission “to improve the quality of life in DAC by identifying and addressing unmet health and human service needs.” The County has also failed in its responsibility of NM Statute 27-5-2 – to recognize that each individual county of this state is the responsible agency for…hospital care or the provision of health care to indigent patients domiciled in that county, as determined by resolution of the board of county commissioners.

The Lessors failed to oversee compliance with the lease; however, the City did establish the Telshor Facility Fund from their monies acquired from the lease, to grant funds to city nonprofit organizations that “support…continued well-being, safety or improvement to lives of sick, indigent or low-income people.”

Although my advocacy for healthcare access has been ongoing, little to no action has taken place to improve the crisis which is unjust, discriminatory, and inhumane. DAC residents purchase goods and services and pay property taxes through rent or home ownership – taxpayers entitled to health care. I have provided a viable proposal to both county and city leaders that they can turn into a resolution/ordinance to enable our government to make provisions/funding to help alleviate this crisis of neglect. 

I’ve presented the most recent of many denials to DAC leaders for a disabled, indigent patient in the DAC Healthcare Assistance Program (CHAP) diagnosed with breast cancer who has been denied health care at MMC due to lack of insurance. This denial occurred despite the county updating their indigent health care resolution adding cancer treatment on August 22, 2023. I alerted the director of HHS, county manager, and county attorney of this denial. No response came from the county manager or attorney. The director said they were working on a contract, but none has appeared. These denials/delays can have grave consequences for this suffering patient, as cancer doesn’t wait for paperwork before it progresses. While this patient and others like her are left to feel like patients of a lesser God, they are victims of poor policy enforcement and bureaucratic shortfalls. The time for change is overdue.   

Yolanda “Yoli” R. Diaz is a lifelong Las Cruces, Doña Ana County resident and is grateful to say that she is a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.  Yoli has provided financial assistance to local cancer patients in treatment since 2013 through the nonprofit organization she founded, CARE.

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