Today Governor Susana Martinez signed legislation to create a voluntary statewide community health worker training and certification program.
"Community health workers are an important piece of our health care workforce, particularly in rural and underserved areas of New Mexico," said Governor Martinez. "By establishing uniform professional standards, more New Mexicans who seek to further their careers as health care professionals will be able to serve our families and communities while continuing to deliver the high-quality care New Mexicans need and deserve."
A community health worker is a frontline public health worker and trusted member of a community who works to increase and improve health knowledge and behaviors through outreach, community education and advocacy. The Community Health Workers Act, sponsored by Senator Mary Kay Papen and Senator Sue Wilson Beffort, establishes a voluntary statewide, competency-based training and certification program for community health workers looking to further develop their talents, and those who provide eligible health services will have access to Medicaid reimbursement for the first time.
New Mexico Community Health Worker Association CEO B.J. Ciesielski praised Governor Martinez for signing the Community Health Workers Act, saying, "This important legislation provides the groundwork needed to ensure that our community health workers are not only recognized for the pivotal role they play in delivering care and treatment to New Mexico families and communities, but also to provide the structure and standards needed to make that care eligible for reimbursement from Medicaid. This is of the utmost importance to countless patients whom our community health workers serve, particularly those in rural and other underserved areas who may not always have access to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals."
New Mexico faces unprecedented changes in health care, such as the full implementation of Centennial Care and the expansion of Medicaid, which could add as many as 200,000 patients. Thirty-two of New Mexico's 33 counties are federally designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas. Community health workers help to address these challenges by developing close relationships with patients, playing a critical role in reducing health disparities, increasing access to care, managing chronic diseases, coordinating comprehensive care, and reducing overutilization of hospital visits. In these ways, community health workers help more patients get the right care in the right place at the right time.
"By establishing a statewide registry, creating a certification board, and providing avenues for continuing education, we will successfully bolster the care that community health workers have brought to New Mexico families for decades--all while supporting our nurses, doctors, and hospitals in their quest to better serve their patients," concluded Governor Martinez.