News Column

Martinez Taps Local Doc for Health Post

January 7, 2011

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez announced Thursday that a Las Cruces pediatrician will head the state Health Department.

Martinez nominated Catherine Torres, 48, a practicing physician at Rio Grande Medical Group in Las Cruces, to the cabinet secretary position, according to a news release.

Martinez touted Torres' background, saying she has an "impressive record of public service."

"As a pediatrician, Dr. Torres knows firsthand the health needs of New Mexico's children and families," said Martinez in a statement. "Her input will be extremely valuable as I work to develop effective and practical public health policies."

Torres, 48, worked from 1998 to 2009 as a pediatrician with First Step, a low-income women's health and children's clinic.

Torres, in a news release, said she considers it a privilege to have been nominated.

"I look forward to applying the real-world experience I have gained working with New Mexico children and families to the administration of the Department of Health and the development of public policy in order to keep the people of our state healthy," she said.

Torres will receive a yearly salary of $122,500, down from the nearly $184,400 paid to Richardson's health secretary.

Harriet Brandstetter, executive director of the nonprofit La Clinica de Familia, said she knows Torres from their work together in the health-care field. Brandstetter said Torres, because of her experience, will have a good understanding of the

culture and the health needs of people in Do-a Ana County.

A big challenge, Brandstetter said, is the high rate of under-insured and uninsured.

"We're pleased someone from the southern part of the state was nominated for that position," she said.

The Health Department runs public health clinics across the state, manages programs for the developmentally disabled and operates several state health facilities, including a mental hospital and long-term care nursing homes. The agency also administers New Mexico's medical marijuana program, which Martinez opposes.

The governor will release her budget recommendations to the Legislature next week.

Martinez said there may be a slight budget increase next year for Medicaid, which provides health care for about a fourth of the state's population, mainly uninsured children and the poor. Federal economic stimulus money has been used to protect Medicaid from cutbacks when state revenues dropped. Martinez said she's committed in her budget proposals to replacing the federal dollars with state money to preserve Medicaid services.

Torres also has served on both the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission and the New Mexico-Sonora Commission. She was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the Do-a Ana County Detention Center and chaired the New Mexico Border Health Advisory Committee

All nominees are subject to Senate confirmation.

Torres earned her B.S. and M.D. from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Catherine Torres

--Age: 48

--Position: Nominated to head the state Health Department


2009-present -- General pediatrician, Rio Grande Medical Group, Las Cruces

2005-2009 -- Medical director, First Step Pediatrics, Memorial Medical Center, Las Cruces

2003-2006 -- Chairman, Department of Pediatrics, Memorial Medical Center, Las Cruces

1998-2005 -- General pediatrician, First Step Pediatrics, Memorial Medical Center, Las Cruces

1995-1997 -- General pediatrician, private practice, Las Cruces

--Education: bachelor's degree in biochemistry and M.D., both from the University of New Mexico

Source: Copyright (c) 2011, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

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