SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – While New Mexico’s record oil revenues are expected to keep state government financially flush, New Mexico’s Department of Health (NMDOH) is among the state agencies seeking a more funding from the state in the upcoming year. A key focus is improving staffing across a range of programs, as about one-third of its positions are unfilled.

“We have a top priority at DOH of rebuilding our workforce,” Dr. David R. Scrase, the acting cabinet secretary for the Department of Health, told legislators in the Legislative Finance Committee. “Our first priority really is to reduce agency-wide vacancies.”

Across the 16 Department of Health divisions and facilities, only one – the medical cannabis program – was fully staffed at the end of November, 2022, according to data presented to legislators on Monday. Overall, the Department of Health is facing a 30% vacancy rate.

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A chart presented to legislators shows vacancies across NMDOH.

The Department of Health is asking for an additional $39.8 million from the state compared to last year, for a total budget of over $771 million. That money would help fill some staffing gaps, according to the Department of Health. But it would also help cover a big budget hole left after tens of millions of federal dollar dry up.

“Interestingly, overall our budget is flat,” meaning they plan on operating with about the same amount of funding as last year, Scrase told legislators. But, they plan on using that money a little differently, focusing on filling staff positions. A “really important number to me is the [staff] vacancy rate,” Scrase says.

Scrase explains that a key reason for widespread shortages is the toll the pandemic took on healthcare workers. “We did a survey recently of our own workforce, and about 70% of the people in this particular [survey] had symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, or even suicidal ideation during the course of the pandemic,” Scrase says.

And it’s not just frontline workers such as nurses that are in short supply. Scrase points out that other areas, such as the Department of Health’s IT workforce, have suffered as well.

“We want to bolster our staff and rebuild in some key areas. Probably the most important one of all of those,” Scrase says, “is our IT workforce.”

The slideshow presented to legislators notes that the Department of Health “continues to lose existing [IT] workforce members due to the inability to train them on new technologies.” And even when fully staffed, the Department of Health has a lower IT-to-total-staff ratio than the average for state and local governments, the presentation notes.

The Department of Health also has a shortage of community health workers, according to Monday’s presentation. These are the individuals who help connect locals across New Mexico with the services they need. The Department of Health is asking for funding to pay for 17 additional community health workers.

The department is also asking for more staff to help process procurement contracts and the paperwork that helps New Mexico make use of federal grant programs. “NMDOH is facing chronic procurement challenges,” the presentation to legislators notes. “The root cause is insufficient human resources to process our 852 contracts and 7,180 purchase orders.”

The Department of Health isn’t the only state government agency facing workforce issues. But, their work has the ability to impact New Mexicans across the state. So, they’re asking for their share of the recent multi-billion dollar windfall headed to New Mexico thanks to oil and gas income. If they get their ask in the upcoming legislative session, the Department of Health could start to fill some of the 1,151 vacant positions it currently has. If they receive their full budget, they would have the funds for about 90 more employees.