Program supports record number of service providers in high-need, rural communities
The New Mexico Higher Education Department has awarded $2.8 million in student debt relief to doctors, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals working in communities across New Mexico.
The agency’s Health Professional Loan Repayment Program provided debt relief to 44 health care professionals via state funds, more than double the number of those who benefitted last year.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham approved $1.6 million for the program this year and members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation secured an additional $1.2 million in federal funds via the Health Resources and Services Administration under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which the agency anticipates can benefit up to 16 additional recipients.
“New Mexico is a state that values both a higher education and the critical contributions of health care workers,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “This program is one part of our strategy to build up a strong health care workforce that serves every community in New Mexico while easing the debt burdens of health care providers."
“New Mexico’s health professionals take on years of onerous education and tens of thousands of dollars in debt to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to provide essential health care services to patients. Through the investment of Gov. Lujan Grisham and our congressional partners, we are supporting our health care workers and workforce while ensuring that New Mexicans living in rural, Tribal, and high-need communities continue to have access to the services they depend on,” said Higher Education Secretary Stephanie M. Rodriguez.
“Health care professionals are the foundation of our medical system,” said Acting Secretary of Health David R. Scrase, M.D. “Student debt relief to doctors, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals is an investment in health care and it will help retain, rebuild, and grow our health care workforce and ensure we deliver the highest quality care for New Mexicans.”
This year’s program recipients are employed at a wide variety of service sites including hospitals, clinics, mental and behavioral health facilities, and Indian Health Service Sites in 31 communities covering all regions of New Mexico. The average debt held by applicants was $95,000 with some holding as much as $300,000 in cumulative student debt.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department received a record number of applications for the program, seeing a 650 percent increase from the prior year. An additional grant award from the Health Resources and Services Administration enabled New Mexico to award twelve additional applicants.
The agency is seeking $15 million as part of its budget request for the coming year to fund 400 to 600 working health professionals estimated to be eligible for the program.
“The past few years have reinforced just how important it is that we do everything we can to support and grow our health care workforce – especially in our rural communities,” said Senator Martin Heinrich. “I'm pleased to welcome this critical federal funding to maintain the Health Professional Loan Repayment Program, which is one of our most important tools for recruiting and retaining health care professionals in the areas where we need them most.”
“Health care workers are local heroes who have been on the front lines and protecting the health and safety of our community. We now have the opportunity to support them,” said Senator Ben Ray Luján. “I'm proud to deliver this $1.2 million grant that will go directly to alleviate health care workers’ training debt. I will always fight to invest in our health care workforce and support our local health care workers in their continued service to New Mexicans.”
“Health care workers are heroes, and I am thrilled that the New Mexico Higher Education Department will receive this grant to help with loan repayments for professionals serving rural and underserved New Mexico communities,” said Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández. “Not only will this debt relief help graduates enter their careers on a level playing field so they can save for a home, a car, or to start a family, it benefits our communities struggling with health care worker shortages. In New Mexico, we don’t just thank health care workers; we invest in their success.”
“Our health care heroes are showing up to work every day in the face of unprecedented challenges, which is why I am proud that federal funding will help alleviate the additional burden of student debt for many of our nurses, doctors, dentists, and other health care providers,” said Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury. “In Congress, I will continue to work hard to address our health care provider shortage in New Mexico and secure the resources we need to connect providers with communities across our state.”
The Health Loan Repayment Program is available to working health care professionals covering more than 25 health occupations and licenses in allied health, dental, medical, and mental and behavioral health fields. Included are medical doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and advanced practice nurses, mental health counselors, licensed clinical social workers, speech language pathologists, and occupational therapists.
Program awardee Dr. Levi Maes is one of just three physicians serving in rural north Rio Arriba County at La Clínica Del Pueblo de Río Arriba in Tierra Amarillo. Born and raised in the area and a graduate of New Mexico Highlands University and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Maes says the program has enabled him to serve his home community and could help others do the same.
“Having the assistance of the Health Loan Repayment Program really allows me to focus on the work needing to be done in this community. The impact of having this incentive for people practicing in rural areas is huge.” Maes said.
According to the 2022 New Mexico Health Care Workforce Committee Report, between 2019 and 2021 New Mexico added 68 physicians, 1,867 registered nurses, and 399 nurse practitioners to the workforce.
Recipients must commit to practicing in an area of the state designated as a health professional shortage area for a minimum of two years. Practitioners must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, established New Mexico residents for at least 12 consecutive months, licensed or certified in the State of New Mexico as of July 1, 2022, and employed at least 40 hours per week. Preference is given to graduates of New Mexico colleges and universities.
The application for New Mexico’s Health Loan Repayment Program will reopen on March 15, 2023. To view a full list of eligible professions, visit hed.nm.gov.
Program applications will be accepted until May 1, 2022 and can be completed online at hed.nm.gov. Individuals interested in learning more can also contact the New Mexico Financial Aid Division at email@example.com or the Financial Aid Hotline at 1-800-279-9777.