Senate Committee Passes Amended Bill For Brain Trauma Study

Sen. Jeff Steinborn

The New Mexican

Brain injury survivors, advocates and doctors say countless patients in the state have struggled for years to get adequate treatment and support following a stroke or blow to the head.

Now they’re asking the New Mexico Legislature to study the gaps in care in an effort to build a better treatment system.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee passed an amended version of Senate Bill 88 Tuesday, which would earmark $150,000 for the state Department of Health to contract a study on existing resources for treating traumatic brain injuries and how New Mexico compares with other states, and to develop recommendations for expanding services.

The committee voted 5-1 to forward the bill to the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, cast the sole dissenting vote.

Dr. Davin Quinn, an associate professor of psychiatry at University of New Mexico Hospital, said the state provides excellent care when it comes to saving lives and treating patients in hospitals — but it needs significant improvements to services available after a patient is released. 

“It’s a problem of access, of education and prevention, an issue that the treatments may not be effective, and there’s no good road map for care,” Quinn said. “It’s a four-part problem.”

Doctors and advocates are championing SB 88 to get a better understanding of the problem, he said. “We want to find out what the gaps are exactly and what do we need to do to prevent them.”

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, successfully proposed an amendment calling for the study’s results to be presented to the Department of Health, the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee and the Legislative Finance Committee. 

“It’s a good amendment, or else a lot of studies sit on shelves,” Steinborn said.

Holly Kisly, a business development manager at the Brain Injury Association of America, said New Mexico has 38 certified brain injury specialists, accredited through the Academy of Brain Injury Specialists certification program. “This is a pretty average number based on population and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for the number of nonfatal hospitalizations per year in New Mexico,” she said.

Quinn, who has treated traumatic brain injuries at UNMH for a decade, said anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people visited emergency rooms in New Mexico between 2014 and 2016 for treatment of a brain injury — and many more who suffered injuries did not seek treatment.

Lena Hakim of Santa Fe, one advocate for improving the system of care for patients with brain injuries, said she lives with the effects of brain trauma every day.

Her life drastically changed in August 2012, when she was hit by a car while walking at night on an unlit road in Santa Fe County, she said. The driver was never charged with a crime.

Hakim, meanwhile, suffers chronic pain and other side effects.

“He broke my spine in six places, broke my hip and split open my head, hitting me so hard he catapulted me into the bushes,” Hakim wrote in an email, adding she now has permanent cognitive and vision impairment, problems with balance and random headaches.

Survivors need more support, customized cognitive therapy and a dedicated neurological rehabilitation center, like those in the neighboring states of Texas and Colorado, Hakim said.

“Brain injuries are one of the most common, yet life-threatening, injuries in the state and over 10,000 New Mexicans are suffering different degrees of brain injuries every year,” she said.

“We need centers in every major town, and therapies which make a difference must be covered by people’s insurances,” she added. “Why can’t everyone have access to these treatments?”