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Albuquerque area needs a behavioral health hospital

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We are facing a crisis in mental health care in this state and the recent events have shown how desperate the situation has become.

The shooting of James M. Boyd, a man reportedly with a history of mental illness, demonstrates the need to vastly improve our facilities and services for mentally ill residents.

And that’s not the only example.

Our mental health system is in crisis and we must face that fact. We cannot allow our seriously ill mental health patients to continue to go without care and we cannot expect our police officers to have to deal with seriously mentally ill patients on the streets without having disastrous results.

The current situation for the Albuquerque area calls for a new behavioral health hospital, a state-of-the-art facility that can offer inpatient care, outpatient care and hybrid care known as a Partial Hospitalization Program – in which patients spend some time in the facility and some time outside of the facility.

The time has come for a 75- to 100-bed behavioral health hospital to deal with the mental health crisis in our community. Such a facility would have a significant beneficial effect.

While there are a few behavioral “beds” in the Albuquerque area, the current facilities are woefully inadequate. There is no fully staffed treatment center capable of dealing with the desperate need that exists out there.

The Treatment Advocacy Center reports that between 2005-10, New Mexico lost 60 percent of its public psychiatric beds, or a total of 254 beds. Our state now ranks in the bottom 10 for psychiatric beds per capita.

And the need just grows.

Just look at our jails, our drug and alcohol treatment centers, our daily and nightly police calls, and the many recent shootings. Take a walk Downtown and you will see the need.

We should not turn a blind eye to the suffering of our neighbors. A new mental health hospital could help prevent the type of tragedies we have witnessed.

In recent days, a coalition of business and religious leaders, and mental health advocates proposed such a facility. We did not address who would run such a facility and how it would be paid for. Instead, we addressed the need for the community to come up with a solution to this crisis.

However, it is somewhat clear that the University of New Mexico should build and run such a hospital. It is the only entity that has the capacity to deliver on such a challenging task. UNMH has the people, the vision and the expertise to make such a facility happen and run it effectively.

The next question is how to pay for such a hospital.

The costs will be considerable, but the costs will be well worth it if we can do the compassionate thing for the mentally ill and do away with so many dangerous situations.

There are many sources for the money for this project, including the state, city and county. With the coming of the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, mental health coverage is supposed to be mandatory and that may help in the financial equation.

Another option is to tap the $90 million that the county collects and gives each year for indigent care, the fund for people who don’t have insurance. As everyone transitions to having insurance, the need for that money will diminish. Rather than returning it to the taxpayers, it may be in the public interest to use that money for a behavioral health hospital.

In any case, it’s time to meet our obligations to our community. It’s time to meet this crisis head on rather than waiting for more shootings and more dangerous incidents.

The system is in need of a behavioral health hospital and the public will support care for the mentally ill.

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