Medicine on the Mesa

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UNM Family and Community Medicine brings mesa community health care via mobile clinic.

By Lauren Lewis :: Video by Rebecca Gustaf

Community Outreach mission area

It's hard to explain to those not directly tied to the UNM Health Sciences Center that our faculty, residents and students go out there, way out there. That they don't just educate, learn and provide patient care in typical clinic settings on campus, but often leave the comforts of the university and immerse themselves in New Mexico's landscape, culture and communities.

In New Mexico, it's easy to feel like you're traveling to the end of the earth. With its grand vistas and limitless horizons, this state holds a lot of mystery and unknown. The unknown is often the people and communities beyond the city limits.

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One such community is Pajarito Mesa. It's not far from Albuquerque, but definitely proves that you don't have to travel far in New Mexico to feel like you're in another world, one you never knew existed.

Located in the southwestern part of Bernalillo County, Pajarito Mesa is a colonia – a community without infrastructure. The 300 families and 1,800 individuals on the mesa live on 25 square miles of unincorporated county with no running water, electricity, physical address or access to health care.

For nearly five years, UNM Family and Community Medicine faculty, residents, and students from medicine, pharmacy and nursing have been coming to Pajarito Mesa to offer people monthly primary care services in a mobile clinic housed in a van provided by Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

The partnership between UNM and the community has benefited both parties. Faculty, residents and students experience a unique clinical setting and a diverse patient population while the people of Pajarito Mesa receive more access to health care.

Dr. Roberto Gomez, assistant professor in the UNM department of family and community medicine, has been coming to the mesa since the beginning to educate students and residents at the clinic.

"It's important for our students and residents to come to a community like Pajarito Mesa because it allows them to see the paradox of American medicine," said Gomez. "We are clearly technologically advanced and yet there are vulnerable members in our community that have no access. It's important for our learning community to see the challenges in delivering health care to communities like Pajarito."

Introducing Pajarito Mesa Nationwide

UNM Family and Community Medicine representatives and Pajarito Mesa community members recently traveled to Washington D.C. for the 2012 National Health Promotion Summit.

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While there, they presented their model of the Pajarito Mesa community-UNM partnership that addresses health inequities in a New Mexico colonia.

"We presented the model so that the rest of the country might be aware of the things that are happening in New Mexico with colonias," said Gomez.

During the presentation, the group described the people and the conditions found on the mesa and the basic needs for water, and health and emergency services.

Luz Maldonado, the neighborhood association president for Pajarito Mesa, was one of the presenters. She shared her perspective as a resident of the mesa and talked about the positive impact the partnership has made on her family and fellow community members.

"This will give Pajarito Mesa an opportunity to be seen from outside the state, maybe nationwide, and people will start knowing what's happening out here," said Maldonado. "There's a community that exists that still doesn't have an infrastructure and that these people, whether we think of them or not, they are human and they have children and the children deserve the best quality of life. We need to try to figure out solutions instead of trying to avoid the problem."