Office for Community Health

The University of New Mexico Office for Community Health (OCH) plays a vital role in advancing health and health equity for all New Mexicans. OCH recognizes that social determinants, such as housing, education, food, transportation, utilities, income and social inclusion, play a far greater role in health than does the health care system.

OCH has developed powerful strategies to address these determinants, which start by touching the lives of individuals and extending to communities, the state, the nation and world.

The Community Health Worker (CHW) Initiative is a key element. CHWs work in community and clinical sites, and serve as navigators for clients of non-profit organizations that address high social needs, as well as case managers for high-needs Medicaid enrollees through managed care organizations. They also help direct resources for those released from jail, and for those with severe mental health and substance use disorders.

OCH coordinates a statewide network of Health Extension Regional Officers (HEROs) who bring the university to the front door of New Mexico communities. HEROs link community health needs with UNM resources in multiple mission areas – education, service, research and health policy. To scale up this community-campus link, OCH brings together UNM colleges, including Law, Education, Architecture and Planning, Engineering and Business (the “HIVE”) to learn about and respond in a coordinated fashion to community health and social priorities. This process is led by community wisdom and builds on community assets. 

OCH features a research, evaluation and health policy unit with community health research capacity. It also hosts the federally funded Emerging Infections Program, and maintains the capacity to conduct community health assessments and economic returns on investment, as well as assessing the health impact of OCH programs. Its Immunization Coalition brings a resource with high public health impact to young and old across the state.

New Mexico’s state agencies, including the Human Services Department, the Department of Health and the Department of Aging and Long Term Services, are investing in and partnering with OCH programs, which range from statewide expansion of CHW and HERO programs, to addressing crisis needs of refugees and asylum-seekers along the U.S.-Mexico border, to meeting the transportation needs of rural residents, especially veterans.

Designation as a World Health Organization Collaborating Center enables OCH to link UNM with global parnters, sharing the University's innovations with visitors while being enriched by lessons learned from other countries.