Health department faces projected deficit of $6 million

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico health department is facing a projected deficit of nearly $6 million.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported ( that the department had a $27 million surplus only two years ago, but its practice of contracting with private nursing services may have contributed to budget problems.

State Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela told the newspaper that the budget shortfall is a result of the system. He said there has been excessive turnover among nurses, so the department has been hiring temporary nursing services to fill the gaps.

The amount spent by the department on nursing services has increased more than four-fold in recent years.

State health officials said Tuesday that their budget woes were caused, in part, by higher bills, litigation costs, a general fund reduction, less money from state funds and inflation.

Varela, D-Santa Fe, and other lawmakers questioned department officials Tuesday during a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee.

In March, lawmakers included $1 million for a 3-percent raise for nurses in the $6.2 billion state budget.

Varela said low pay has led to turnover among nurses and other staff at state hospitals and other facilities. To fill those vacant positions, the department has contracted with temporary nursing services, including some from other states, instead of making permanent hires, he said.

In a December budget adjustment, the Health Department transferred $4.7 million out of salaries and benefits for full-time employees. Of that, $3.6 million was moved to contractual services.

However, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the raise plan, writing that it was added without recommendation by either the executive or the Legislative Finance Committee.

She was "troubled that the funding for these increases came from cuts into critical programs like the Trauma Fund at the Department of Health. Finally, even with these funds, the appropriated amounts were insufficient to fully fund the proposed raises. This is not a responsible way to improve compensation within state government," Martinez wrote.


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican,

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