LAS CRUCES – Four New Mexico organizations have partnered to establish a full-spectrum reproductive health care center in Doña Ana County, which is expected to be fully operational within the next two years.
The University of New Mexico Health and Science Center launched the Reproductive Healthcare Success Project (RHSP) in 2021, through which it investigated the state, looking for a location that would most benefit access to a wide range of reproductive health care. This care would include services such as birth control options, prenatal and postnatal care, lactation support, hormone therapy, infertility treatment, screening for sexually transmitted infections and cancer, miscarriage management , adoption education and resources, basic sex education, and abortion medication and procedural care. .
The idea is to create a center based on the ideals of the surrounding community that is “culturally congruent, gender-affirming, trauma-informed, and ready to serve everyone,” according to a press release.
This project was launched long before Roe V.Wade was repealed by the United States Supreme Court’s decision this summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Charlene Bencomo, executive director of Bold Futures, explained that this work was stimulated at the time by the potential reversal of deer and the long-standing need to provide better access to care. Bold Futures is a nonprofit that “leads policy change, research, grassroots organizing, and culture change by and for women and people of color in New Mexico,” according to their website.
Bold Futures became involved with the UNM project during the summer of 2021. Bencomo said he helped expand community engagement, gauge the reactions of various community members to such an establishment and what they have expressed on health care needs.
“We’ve been instrumental in recruiting people who are instrumental, as well as Strong Families, and in hosting virtual meetings,” Bencomo said. “Each week, from September to December of last year, we held meetings with different community leaders. Everyone from mental health workers, doulas, midwives, obstetricians/gynecologists, queer and trans people, young people, people who work with young people in these communities.
Strong Families New Mexico also became involved in the project, as well as Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Bencomo said Santa Fe, McKinley and Doña Ana counties have been identified as three possible locations. She said the groups were initially researching “what supports people have to access reproductive health care in these more rural communities and what challenges they also face.”
In the end, the four groups decided that Doña Ana County made the most sense for such a project.
“I am a person who was born and raised in Las Cruces. I have lived here most of my life, and I know it can be very difficult to access basic reproductive health care, including pap smears, including prenatal classes and information, support for breastfeeding – all those things that I’ve been through in my own life,” Bencomo said. “There are a lot of things that people may need throughout their lives that fall into this category of reproductive health care, and somehow we’ve been so focused on the abortion that seems to take over conversations.”
At this point, an advisory board of about 13 people was created to help move the project forward and establish the foundation. Members include community leaders from local and surrounding areas who will work for approximately nine months to get things started. The establishment of long-term funding to ensure the sustainability of the center for many years is on the agenda, as well as the search for a location for the center and the election of a board of directors. .
Bencomo said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has already pledged $10 million to the center, although certain criteria must still be met before the money is exchanged. Other financing possibilities are under study.
Location is particularly important because one of the goals is to make the center accessible to people from all over Doña Ana County, as well as the surrounding areas. Language differences and disabilities are also part of accessibility considerations.
“We want to make sure that we are really strategic and intentional. It’s not just your average health center that opens the doors,” Bencomo said. “We want it to look and feel and be a different experience for people, and that’s going to take a little while.”
Bencomo said other needs include personnel, specifying exactly what services will be provided, and other documents. There is no set timeline for when the community might see this center operational, but Bencomo said he hopes within a year or two.
Affordability is another aspect of care under consideration, addressing as wide a population as possible with all kinds of abilities, financial or otherwise.
“I hope this can serve as a model for other areas, not just in our state but across the country, as we look at many more restrictions to come not just on abortion care, but also on contraception. and who knows what else,” Bencomo said.
Leah Romero is the Trending Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, LRomero@lcsun-news.com or @rromero_leah on Twitter.
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