FARMINGTON — Sen. Jeff Bingaman made what might be his last visit to Farmington as a sitting United States Senator on Thursday.
Bingaman, D-New Mexico, visited Pesco, the family-owned natural gas business in Farmington, and San Juan College Dental Hygiene Program to meet with students and teachers Thursday.
At the college he spoke with students and program directors about how the dental program has improved access to health care locally.
“It's the kind of thing we need to see a lot more of around New Mexico and around the country,” Bingaman said of the college's dental program. “There's a demand for health care and dental hygienists in New Mexico.”
The dental program at the college is in its 10th year and is based out of a collection of classrooms in the college's Health and Human Performance Center. The program's classrooms can double as a dentist office, said Dr. Julius Manz, the program director.
It's a competitive program to get into, accepting just 12 students a year.
And the dental hygiene program boasts a 100 percent job placement rate for graduates.
“We see patients every week,” said Jaycelena Raney, a second-year student in the program.
addition to seeing patients regularly at the college, the dental students also host clinics annually and travel to health care facilities on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, and to local public schools to provide care.
“Before the program started it was extremely difficult for dentists in the area to find dental hygienists to hire,” Manz said. “We've improved that situation significantly. Every single dentist's office in the county has more than enough hygienists.”
Bingaman praised the program's affect on the community.
“Anything that can be done to increase access to dental care is a good thing,” he said. “That's what this program is doing.”
During his visit to the college, Bingaman also stressed the need for training health care professionals in America rather than importing workers from overseas.
“We import too many people in my view. Too many physicians come from overseas,” he said. “We should be training those people here.”
Bingaman, 69, is not running for a sixth term in the Senate. He will leave the position at the end of the year after a 30-year career.
With national politics in full swing and competitive races for president and the senate seat he's leaving, Bingaman said there are some things about the campaign season he misses.
“I always enjoyed the campaigning part. I didn't enjoy the fundraising,” he said. “There's way too much money in politics these days and it's a major burden on candidates to get out and raise the money to run an effective campaign. I'm glad to be