As a citizen concerned about mental health in our community, I joined 39 other volunteer professionals and consumers of behavioral health care in the metro area to make cautious and measured allocations of our tax dollars. In (the Journal’s) Aug. 11 editorial our efforts were called an “unkept promise that hurts more than the taxpayers – it hurts those the tax was intended to help. …” The comments sting.
Let me clarify and correct. We have committed 60 percent of the $40 million, as the amounts listed for various projects are the amount per year. We have UNM’s Institute for Social Research engaged to seek best practices across the nation to provide potential structure for projects. Needs identified in the Community Partners Business Plan procured by Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Commission published Dec. 2015 are based on many studies of gaps in care over the last decade. All projects are considered pilots. Most have a one-year evaluate and modify component. Data is being gathered to provide evidence-based medicine.
“The money instead would back-fill existing programs” applies at most to one case, the Community Connections jail re-entry diversion program for $1.3 million or, over three years, $3.9 million. I was on the committee that voted to fund that. It was the only program that existed prior to committees developing the rest from the ground up. There is good evidence that individuals in stable housing reduce substance use and criminal activity. We created a sister program for community members, also funded at $1.3 million, for taking referrals from the mental health community.
The Housing, Crisis, Community Supports and Prevention and Harm Reduction subcommittees have also designed project concepts for the following, associated costs are included: Youth Transitional Living, $650,000; Adverse Childhood Events, $3 million; Community Engagement Teams, $1 million; Peer Drop-in Centers, $300,000; Jail re-entry center, $1.3 million; UNM Institute for Social Research, $245,000 ; Behavioral Health Advisory Services, $140,000.
A decision was reached Aug. 18 on the vendor to staff four Mobile Crisis Teams with 5.2 licensed social workers for ride along Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department crisis-intervention teams. Contract negotiations are next. It was budgeted for $1 million, though the proposal came in at less and allows room to expand. My calculator says $10.2 million of $17 million – 60 percent of all funds allocated. We are researching single site housing, respite or relief house, in-school programs. We 40 volunteers are a bit obsessive about getting good value for your/our tax dollars. As Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins stated, “It has been a very thoughtful process.”
A conscious decision was made not to go for a building but for services. Las Cruces has had a mental health building with no money to staff it. We fund our own local community resources and challenge them to develop expanded new programs to fill identified needs. We are benefiting citizens, consumers, employers, local programs and the tax base. We are working with bigger health care entities in hopes of leveraging a physical site, but I think our efforts are responsible, on task and a benefit to our community.