There’s been lots of talk about economic recovery lately, but there’s no good news on the jobs front in New Mexico. Again and again, the business community pushes for corporate income tax cuts and job creation credits. But there’s no evidence that either does anything but drain the treasury. So far, we’ve been kissing out tax revenue goodbye, along with the jobs that Hewlett Packard moved to Mexico and the 200 we lost when Schott Solar shut down.
Well, here’s another jobs idea that’s right under our noses. It’s the training of the thousands of health care workers needed as a result of Obamacare and the state’s decision to expand Medicaid to include over 100,000 new patients. Who’s going to take care of these people? We are now desperately short of primary care doctors, nurses, and dentists. 32 out of our 33 counties are health professional shortage areas. New Mexico needs to mount a massive effort to train less expensive mid-level providers like dental therapists, nurse practioners, and community health workers to breach the gap. The pay-off will be good new jobs in every corner of the state—and, ultimately, less costly, and more responsive health care for everyone.
But it ain’t easy to loosen the grip of the old guard—take dentists for example. They’re in extremely short supply in New Mexico yet in this year’s legislature they are fighting tooth and nail-- so to speak-- against a common sense bill that would train dental therapists to provide services on the reservation and in rural areas—where there’s an oral health crisis. House Bill 17, sponsored by Republican Dennis Roch has the support of public health advocates but has raised the ire of the New Mexico Dental Society, always jealous of their own scope of practice. And if you’re a legislator, you don’t want to raise their ire. In 2012 the dentists gave almost $100,000 to candidates here, about 60% to Republicans. But the dental therapist idea, just like the nurse practioner idea which NM pioneered back in the 1960s, has the potential to create jobs—about 400 of them, according to supporters.
But to get there – and to create even more health care jobs—we have to be willing to reshuffle the deck a little. It requires more political courage than voting for a tax cut--but in the long run it’s a path to sustainable jobs that won’t move out when the tax incentives run out.
Dede Feldman is a veteran of the New Mexico Senate, where she represented the North Valley of Albuquerque for 16 years before retiring this year.