Michelle Lujan Grisham champions power of policy during Johns Hopkins talk

New Mexico governor urges students to lean into public health policy to 'create a sea change for the country' in eighth installment of JHU's Health Policy Forum series

Michelle Lujan Grisham was a young lawyer and mom navigating the job market when a volunteer position revealed her calling.

"The program was called Lawyer Referral for the Elderly. And in six months I was running that program," said Lujan Grisham, now governor of New Mexico, during a Johns Hopkins Health Policy Forum virtual conversation with Bloomberg School of Public Health Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie on Friday, May 5.

It was Lujan Grisham's job to guide seniors and their families through the tricky process of accessing health care and related social programs. "So I had to learn how to navigate health care policy and bring folks together," she said. "And that led me to want to be a policymaker and change the very laws that I saw as barriers to people getting the services that they need."

Today Lujan Grisham is the 32nd governor of New Mexico and the first Democratic Hispanic woman elected governor in U.S. history. As governor, she has implemented a series of evidence-based policies aimed at transforming New Mexico's public education system, expanding the state's economy to include more high-quality employment opportunities, and preserving the state's air, land, and water. A native of New Mexico, she represented her home state in Congress from 2013 to 2019 before becoming governor in January 2019. She was elected to a second term in November 2022.

Lujan Grisham called on the Hopkins students listening to the livestream discussion to follow her lead in helping to solve the myriad public health issues facing the United States, advising them to be willing to take risks to ensure the degrees they are pursuing align with their passions.

"If you want meaning in your work in the same way you want meaning in your personal life, this is a body of effort that needs you, and you will love doing it," she said. "Be an advocate. Find a place to do that work because not only will you improve your own life and improve the lives of the people you work with directly, you'll create a sea change for the country."

MacKenzie's conversation with Lujan Grisham covered topics including the long-term health effects of systemic poverty, the need for more robust educational supports spanning all ages of childhood, investing in the health and success of Indigenous people and sovereign nations, and the devastating impact of rolling back the clock on women's rights and denying gender-affirming care. Lujan Grisham noted that New Mexico is among the states that have codified the right to access abortion care but cautioned that political efforts are in motion to create a nationwide ban on abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, undoing the constitutional right to an abortion that had been in place for 50 years in the United States.

"We need advocates to be really clear that this is a country that should be expanding individual rights about bodily autonomy and freedoms, not restricting them," Lujan Grisham said.

Lujan Grisham is the eighth expert to participate in the Health Policy Forum series, which launched in fall 2020 to highlight the university's engagement with key leaders on matters of health policy and health care. Previous events featured Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (October 2020); Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May 2021); Robert M. Davis, CEO and president of Merck (October 2021); Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (January 2022); Atul Gawande, assistant administrator of the Bureau for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID; Donna Shalala, former HHS secretary and member of Congress (June 2022); and Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (December 2022).

The Health Policy Forum series is jointly hosted by Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Carey Business School, and School of Nursing along with Johns Hopkins Medicine.