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College’s record for ‘making things happen’ gave weight to funding request

Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez secured $1.1 million in funding for student health center
Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez, right, presented San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass, left, with a check for the $1.1 million in funding she helped secure for the college’s student health center. (David Edward Albright/Durango Herald)

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez spoke at San Juan College Tuesday and presented the college with $1.1 million from the 2022-23 Congressional Budget Bill.

The money will go toward construction of a student health center on campus in front of the Health and Human Performance Center. The project is out to bid.

Another source of funding for the health center will come from the recent increase in the college’s general fee.

Mar 31, 2023
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Leger Fernandez, a Democrat representing the 3rd Congressional District, also secured $3 million for the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services to expand the Shiprock Domestic Violence Shelter.

Leger Fernandez said her office received funding requests for 174 projects, and she carefully considered the ones that would have the greatest impact and would get built.

“San Juan College has such a great record of making things happen. You look around and see how they address the entire needs of students from building the dorms to expanding the range of programs they have here,” she said, adding that partnerships with regional universities to provide students with the best training also lends to the college’s track record of success.

The health care center will provide physical health and behavioral health services to students. It also will be used as a training facility for future health care practitioners earning their degrees at the college.

There will be “health education and promotion programming on a full range of topics important to the success of students,” said Boomer Appleman, vice president of Student Services.

“The health center will also work to provide health promotion and programs in a state-of-the-art facility,” Appleman said. “This facility is critical to the mission to best serve our student body and the residents of New Mexico.”

Senior director of San Juan College's physical plant Chris Harrelson, left, shows U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez the plans for a new Student Health Center on Tuesday as SJC Executive Vice President Ed DesPlas, right, observes. (Debra Mayeux/The Journal)

The college hired a nurse practitioner, Charisse Buchanan, to oversee the medical side of the facility. Buchanan is handling the planning and equipment acquisition. She is applying for licenses and working to get it up and running on day one, when it opens in the fall of 2024.

“We plant to break ground in late summer or early fall,” said Chris Harrelson, senior director of the college’s physical plant. The 2,700 square foot facility will consist of “offices, treatment spaces, conference spaces and a space for treatment of multiple people at one time.”

Harrelson said the college looked at four different locations and selected the space in front of the HHPC. “We chose that for multiple reasons – utilities cost and mostly for accessibility. We want first responders to be able to get there. We want people to know where it is, and we want it to be easy for ADA accessibility.”

The location is highly visible.

“When you need care, you know exactly where it’s at,” Leger Fernandez said. “We know that you cannot learn if you have a physical ailment. You cannot learn if you have a mental health ailment. We want our students to be able to succeed in school so they can then succeed in their careers and in the workforce. You need to address not just what are they taking in the classroom but make sure they are their best in the classroom.”