Lobos and Aggies unite to improve public health facilities in New Mexico rural areas.

UNM’s Institute for Community Health Services is collaborating with New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service (CES) to improve public health services around the state with the help of students in the universities’ public health master’s program. The students will work with NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Services.

Deborah Helitzer, associate vice chancellor for research education of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, said UNM will allow public health students at UNM to work with and agent from CES for a semester.

“The student will go and meet with the Cooperative Extension agent and they, together, will come up with a project for the student to do,” Helitzer said. “The Cooperative Extension agent will provide access to their knowledge and their relationship to the community and the student will work on something that is important to that community.”

Helitzer said the collaboration with NMSU is composed of a health service agreement, which is led by family and community medicine professor Arthur Kaufman, and of a public health agreement, which is led by Helitzer. She said the health service agreement will work to help New Mexico communities to gain access to health services.

“With the Affordable Care Act, all of New Mexico’s population should have access to Health care,” Helitzer said. “A lot of the people in communities do not know how to do that, so this agreement will help them get access to health care.”

Helitzer said the public health agreement will also help UNM’s public health students to gain hands-on experience and will provide the Cooperative Extension agents with more training.

“Part of the goal is to give students more exposure to community needs and to give the faculty in the Cooperative Extension Agents more training in public health,” Helitzer said. “Those are two goals, so the details are going to be worked out.”

Bruce Hinrichs, district director of NMSU’s CES, said there are more than 350 full-time employees working within the organization. He said NMSU has county faculty members who work to identify the needs of those communities.

Hinrichs said CES also has state specialists who conduct research in each county and nutritionists who provide counties with their most recent nutritional statistics.

“Taking the University findings to the people is what we’re there for,” Hinrichs said.

Hinrichs said the agreement will benefit both universities.

“It only makes sense because UNM’s got a Health Science Center there, and Extension has the mechanism of reaching every county in the state,” he said. ”So it sounds like a pretty smart partnership to me.”

Hinrichs said although he has not seen the official memorandum of understanding, he knows both institutions will work to provide more health care resources to communities.

“Extension offices are located in each county in the state and they have a long history of working with clientele in the areas of family and nutrition,” he said. ”So being able to add any kind of health care that may be missing or health information that’s missing in those areas will be beneficial.”

Helitzer said she is unsure when both universities will start working together. She said CES’ Strategic Planning Committee will meet for the first time next week to finalize the universities’ plan and to set a start date for the project.

“We’re hoping we can have a plan sometime in the fall,” she said. “The earliest could be the spring semester of 2014 or the fall depending on how things go forward.”