New Mexico must take action on health care

Cecelia Fred
This appeared in the Gallup Independent on September 3, 2019.

“Always take care of each other.” That was my parents’ advice to me and my brothers and sisters before we lost them both to cancer. We took that to heart. We are in close touch to this day.

I know that of the nine of us, though, my parents were likely most worried about who would take care of me after they were gone. I’m a paraplegic, the result of an accident with a gun when I was a little girl.

When I lost my parents, I didn’t realize how hard it would become for me to access health care.

Back then, specialists from Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital in Denver that helps people with spinal cord injuries, came to New Mexico to take care of me and others in the community. Those doctors taught me about my body and my injury. They helped me understand how to care for myself. They held a Spinal Clinic on the Navajo Nation to check our kidneys and bladder, and make sure we were in good health.

That’s all changed over the years.

The specialists don’t come anymore. At the Gallup Indian Medical Center, the doctors and nurses are not spinal cord specialists and don’t know how to take care of us. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t even move the bed and I had to ring the bell all the time. The staff got frustrated with me.

I’m also under a new plan through Medicaid and I’m struggling to figure out how it works. I don’t know what services are covered. And Indian Health Services doesn’t provide the supplies I need anymore. I have to pay for my catheters out-of-pocket.

My own doctor doesn’t really know how to take care of me; I have to tell her. At least she listens. When I told one doctor that I was developing a bladder infection, he didn’t believe me. “How do you know that? You’re a paraplegic. You don’t have feeling in that part of your body.” I know how my body and I deserve to be taken seriously and cared for. Getting health care should not have to be a fight. I have two sons. Like my parents, I worry about who will take care of my children when I’m gone. I’m not worried that they won’t take care of each other; I’m worried that the health care system won’t take care of them.

With the changes in access that I’ve seen and with the high cost to just see a doctor, I worry that my sons will have to choose between buying food and getting the care they might need.

That’s why I’m fighting for change. Yes, I go up to the Fourth Floor at the hospital and complain when I can’t get services or supplies. But the fight is bigger than that. New Mexico needs a health care system that works for everyone.

Through my advocacy work with New Mexico Together for Healthcare, I am supporting the effort to bring health care to every New Mexican. A promising option – Medicaid Buy-in – received start-up funding during the last Legislative Session. I’m excited to see Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature taking steps to improve health care access and to reduce costs. Medicaid Buy-in would simplify the health care system and lower costs by allowing people who make too much for Medicaid and who can’t afford private insurance to pay for the quality, trusted care Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years.

But, really, I don’t care what new program is put in place – Medicaid Buy-in, a public option. No matter what you call it or how the details shake out, New Mexico must take action. We need a health care system that guarantees everyone access to the care they need and deserve.

My mom and dad were right. We all need to take care of each other. But it’s not just families that need to stick together. All New Mexicans need to stand together to build a health care system that works for us all.

Join me Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 5:30 pm at the Gallup Bingo Hall and share your story at the McKinley Townhall on Health care and Disabilities. Alice Liu McCoy, Executive Director of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, will attend and share updates on where the state is headed and take questions.

Let’s raise our voices, tell our stories and work together to fix our health care system.

Cecelia Fred lives in Red Rock. She is a local health care advocate and an ambassador for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.