Santa Fe New Mexican: Heinrich hears efforts to improve life on city’s south side

By:  Staci Matlock

At La Familia Medical and Dental Clinic in the Agua Fría village on Saturday, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich glimpsed the efforts of a community working to reinvent itself.

The challenges are many, noted City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who represents the city’s south side. Some students in the area lack Internet access, so they struggle to finish homework assignments. Many adults spend hours getting food because they have to catch a bus or walk more than a mile to reach a store. And the area is lacking safe places to walk.

Dominguez and others have been working on several initiatives aimed at improving living conditions in the fastest-growing sector of the city.

During his visit Saturday, Heinrich heard about the Quality of Life Initiative, which is hosting events to bring together service providers, nonprofits, employers, educators and residents to address south-side needs.

He also heard from staff at La Familia who work with a program launched last year called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. That program is designed to get service providers and community leaders homing in on problems like the high school dropout rate, health problems and food insecurity, said Andrew Black, Heinrich’s field representative in Santa Fe.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the program also is working to address the south side’s high rates of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

“The root cause of these health problems is the lack of access to healthy foods and physical activity,” said Bonnie Lochner, who runs the program for La Familia.

Lochner said 23,000 Santa Fe residents live in four “food deserts” within the city, meaning they live a mile or more from the closest store with fresh food. More than 15,000 are low-income, she said. To help alleviate the problem, the Community Health program has increased the number of farmers selling at the Southside Farmers Market and is launching a mobile fresh food vending service and neighborhood cooking classes.

Many families in the area can’t afford to get their kids into organized sports activities, “so we brought physical activity to the schools in after-school programs,” Lochner said, noting soccer and yoga classes have started at some of the south-side schools.

Heinrich said he was “blown away” by the collaborative efforts of the community and the organizations.

He has co-sponsored a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Udall to increase the number of primary health care services in New Mexico and across the U.S. He says an additional 219 primary care doctors are needed in rural New Mexico communities and underserved areas such as the city’s south side.