New Mexico Goes on Call

Nurses to staff an advice line 24/7
by | February 2006

New Mexico is starting up a local health-advice line for residents. Nurses who answer calls will be able to discuss over-the-counter medications or suggest a caller needs to see a doctor. And that's not all: They also may be able to tell patients exactly where in their area to go for medical help.

The advice line grows out of a state requirement for all managed care organizations that have state Medicaid contracts to provide health advice for participants at all hours. Since many health organizations outsource advice-line services, patients who dial in might end up talking to someone in, say, a Pittsburgh call center.

New Mexico hopes to arrange it so that out-of-work state nurses-- possibly those who have aged out of physically demanding hospital jobs--can staff an in-state call line. "The idea is to try to bring that money back into the state and make the advice line more specific to the needs of New Mexicans," says Cheryl Lopez, a registered nurse and executive director of the advice line.

The state Department of Health awarded $500,000 for the creation of the locally staffed nurse advice line. When the line gets going this spring, the call base will start out with Medicaid recipients. The state hopes the line eventually will accommodate all residents.

The ultimate goal is to keep people from going to emergency rooms for their basic health care. But state officials also see the advice line as a way to ease the burden on physicians who typically are on call after hours. That could help with recruiting and retaining physicians in the more rural and remote areas of the state.

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman | Former columnist |