Wayne Powell, project director of Community Voices New Mexico, knows a secret. “Committed partnerships are the key to building and sustaining social change in communities.” As the New Mexico partners wind up nine years of Foundation funding for their Community Voices initiative, Powell has been reflecting on the impact of having that kind of consistent financial support, but he says he never discounts the power of the partners to continue to build on their work.
“The Community Voices initiative in New Mexico has always been more than just a program. For all of us it has been a commitment to bring about access and real change for the people who live here,” Powell says. He notes that the partners have utilized the time that Foundation funding has afforded them to develop strong partnerships and also develop resources and attract providers that can increase health access for all the state’s residents.
“In the early days of Community Voices New Mexico, we built on things that were already happening here, and continued to seek out new opportunities that would enhance that work,” Powell says, adding that many efforts over the first five years focused very specifically on building partnerships that would help provide statewide health care coverage for the uninsured. Those efforts helped to get federal approval for New Mexico’s Medicaid waiver program, making it possible for more adults to have health care.
Powell points to the way that Community Voices targeted increasing access to dental care as an example of what the project has been able to accomplish by working with partners. By building on the dental care work done in another WKKF initiative, Turning Point, bringing the state’s universities, dental professionals and community leaders together, the partners were able to significantly improve existing access to dental care. They also tapped into their resources to create dental career education opportunities that would help to ensure the availability of providers in the future.
Partners were also thoughtful in responding to the needs of the communities they sought to serve. “Community members told the partners that they saw a need for school-aged children to have access to dental services,” Powell says. “Together we made it happen. “
Community leaders secured a mobile dental care van that travels to schools in Chaves County, in the southeast corner of the state. In addition to the dental van, Community Voices partners established a Roswell-based clinical program under the guidance of Eastern New Mexico University Roswell, another one of one of the initial Community Voices partners.
Through this partner and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center dental faculty, dental education programs expanded to include dental hygienists. A recent state appropriation will support the establishment of a Program Year 2 General Dentistry Residency and further enhance services in the area. Powell says that this program should help to recruit professionals and meet the needs of communities that have tremendous shortage of dentists who will take uninsured and underinsured patients.
“Beyond Community Voices, we will continue to work with our partners to find ways to provide coverage and increase access to services for New Mexico’s uninsured,” Powell says. “Thanks to the support of the Governor, and our Legislature, we may actually see coverage for the entire state by 2008—something we worked for from the very beginning.”
Powell says Community Voices is working with communities, provider groups and various funding sources to develop one-stop access models of care, known as “Health Commons,” that would offer community members a single point of entry for all their health and social support needs.
The New Mexico initiative also supported local participation in a state study of Medicaid funding for school-based health clinics that provide primary care for school-age children. There are now school-based health centers in 57 of the 83 school districts, with more scheduled to be added during this current school year.
Powell says that the health care needs of New Mexico’s underserved Native American population have driven support for the Center for Native American Health at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. “Thanks to a legislative appropriation, and a federal research grant to study the health needs of Native Americans, the Center is making progress in addressing a wide variety of health concerns.”
Powell is confident that the Foundation’s support for Community Voices in his state will continue to yield results for years to come because of the bridges that have been built and the committed partnerships that continue to move forward to improve health and health care for the people of New Mexico.