Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014 12:00 am
BERNALILLIO — With hospital CEOs in the room, health care providers around the table and other local officials in attendance to discuss economic development strategy on Thursday, consultant Mark Lautman concluded the “holy grail” for Sandoval County and Rio Rancho is within reach.
The strategy has taken on momentum. UNM West will start training nurses in fall 2014. Many of the county’s 17,000 uninsured will enroll with a health exchange or Medicaid. The hospitals will hire several hundred employees in the next year or two.
Considerable consensus emerged at the meeting: Rio Rancho is well-poised to educate health care workers. Entrepreneurs have a great opportunity to build facilities next to hospitals and provide complementary services. The county can then pursue branding and attract venture capital.
The first meeting of what the county is calling the Health and Social Services Initiative lasted about 2 1/2 hours in the county administration building. County Commissioner Glenn Walters of Rio Rancho welcomed the 30 to 35 people who attended, and County Manager Phil Rios introduced each speaker on the agenda.
“If we jump on this now,” Walters said, “I think we’ve got some real opportunities — I’m very optimistic.”
After a round of introductions, Lautman provided a short summary of the Economic Development Business Assessment and Strategy, which he and a task force authored. It was presented to the county commission earlier this month. It is now available on the county website.
The strategy, in part, calls for developing land around City Center and Presbyterian Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho. Lautman said local governments won’t have to offer incentives to attract health care businesses. Rios is already working with other governments to lay the groundwork for companies and entrepreneurs.
Rio Rancho City Councilor Chuck Wilkins said “growing the businesses we have here” is just as important as recruiting new companies. The council has worked hard to make the city business-friendly, and recently has looked at removing obstacles for zoning and planning, he said.
Richard Larson, vice chancellor at UNM Health Sciences Center, presented preliminary results from a statewide study of health care workforce needs. The county has a shortage of 27 primary care physicians and 45 nurse practitioners. The Affordable Care Act will create an even greater shortage.
The county lacks an even larger number of nurses. Wynn Goering, CEO of UNM West, said his campus is preparing to train nurses who can collaborate and communicate with physicians and pharmacies. Nurse practitioners receive training beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Several around the table stressed economic opportunities. Larson said each new physician generates $1 million of economic activity in the community where they practice. Walters foresees rural community health workers coming to Rio Rancho for classes to pass the new state certification.
Rios said he wants all kinds of health care practitioners, facilities and services to relocate or start up in the county. Lautman described health care as “almost an economy on its own.”
“As a commission,” Walters said, “we are ready to put some money in to help this along.”