Local Health Office Closes But Expected To Reopen

By Carol A. Clark
Los Alamos Daily Post

The New Mexico Department of Health’s Los Alamos County Health Office effectively stopped seeing patients Sept. 14 across from Los Alamos High School at 1183 Diamond Dr.

Public Health Nurse Manager Andrea Cunningham staffed the office for two years but was directed to tender her resignation after she asked for three weeks off without pay in September to accompany her husband on a trip to South Africa.

“I wrote them a letter asking them to reconsider but they said if I was going to take three weeks off then I needed to resign,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham and her husband moved to Los Alamos more than 22 years ago and her three daughters, now 22, 20 and 18 were born and raised here.

As a nurse, Cunningham has worked in a variety of institutions including Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos Medical Center and the University of Michigan.

“It has been, and remains, my goal to support families and children in the community through service,” Cunningham said. “I’m concerned about the local health office because it’s been closed since I was forced to resign. They’ve removed all of the pharmaceuticals and now students from the high school must travel to the health office in Espanola.”

NMDOH spokesman Paul Rhien told the Los Alamos Daily Post Wednesday 8that the plan is to reopen the Los Alamos health office on a part-time basis using staff from the Espanola office.

“We will know soon which days the office will be open … it won’t be five days a week but the days and hours decided upon will remain consistent,” Rhien said.

The New Mexico Department of Health is the state agency charged with handling all medical and health related fields within the state of New Mexico.
The programs previously provided at the Los Alamos Health Office include:

  • Family planning services including confidential services for teens
  • Disease prevention services include STD testing;
  • Immunizations through the vaccines for children program; and
  • Tuberculosis treatment.

In her letter asking NMDOH to reconsider her employment, Cunningham suggested they consider the fact that the best and most judicious use of ever decreasing budget dollars is to conserve money where available.

“I would hope the most prudent use of taxpayer dollars in public health would be to keep an established, trained, and highly effective nurse rather than hiring a new employee to the office,” she said.

“I ask the administration to consider the detrimental effects on the community of the loss of a nurse who is fully trained to single-handedly run an office and administer multiple programs (including the ensuing regulations and reporting requirements for Family Planning, Disease Prevention, Immunization, TB, and WIC), as well as a long term vacancy or clinic closure as a result.

“It has been stated that the problem in retaining public health staff is the low salary. I would counter that while a lower salary commensurate with surrounding area jobs is a problem in recruitment, a true issue in retaining qualified staff is a lack of flexibility as exemplified by needing to resign in lieu of a 3-week leave of absence, and would ask that the permission for leave be reconsidered.  

“In conclusion, again, it is with great sadness that I submit this resignation letter and hope that administration will reconsider its necessity.”