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Treat crisis services as a priority issue

For people living with mental illness and/or substance use disorders, prompt access to treatment during a behavioral health crisis can determine whether a person gets the care he or she needs – or gets arrested and taken to jail. And in extreme cases, access to crisis services can literally mean the difference between life and death. As local government leaders, we are united in strong support of Senate Bill 220 – legislation sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen that will help us provide the crisis services our residents need.

For more than a decade, every task force, study, and report on behavioral health in New Mexico has identified access to crisis services a top priority. Elected leaders in counties and cities across the state have been working with providers, consumers, families and other stakeholders to fill that gap.

Senate Bill 220 gives local governments and health care providers the flexibility we need to prioritize and fund the services most needed in our communities. The bill eliminates legislative hurdles and lays the foundation for appropriate, sustainable crisis services across our state. SB 220 will provide Medicaid reimbursement for a wider range of short- and long-term crisis services and allow much-needed flexibility in where those services are provided.

Behavioral health crisis services are vital to our residents living with mental illness and substance use disorders – and to their families and caregivers. In New Mexico, individuals experiencing a crisis often end up in jail because law enforcement has few, if any, alternatives. In contrast, Arizona, Texas and Colorado have crisis triage centers that deliver a range of mental health and substance abuse treatment services in one location, giving law enforcement the option of taking an individual for treatment rather than entanglement in the criminal justice system. The changes proposed in SB 220 are critical to making crisis triage centers a reality here in New Mexico.

State and local leaders are committed to filling the gaps in our behavioral health care system, working together to build a continuum of care that meets the needs of all residents. We recognize that every community is unique, with needs and priorities specific to its residents. That’s why SB 220 is so important; it enables local governments to provide an array of crisis services and creates flexibility in state laws and regulations. We need options for residential, nonresidential, hospital-based or freestanding crisis triage centers to meet the crisis service needs of our communities.

Those of us in local government are willing to do our part. We can and must do a better job providing behavioral health services in this state, and SB 220 is a big step forward. We are grateful to Sen. Papen for her leadership on this issue and to Gov. Susana Martinez for her support of this legislation. We hope that SB 220 will have the bipartisan support needed for speedy passage through the Legislature this year so we can begin to deliver the services our residents so desperately need.

This letter was also signed by Santa Fe Commission Chair Anna Hansen, Doña Ana County Commission Chair Benjamin L. Rawson, Otero County Commission Vice Chair and President of the N.M. Association of Counties Susan Flores, San Juan Commission Chair Margaret McDaniel and San Juan Commission Chair Pro-Tem Jack Fortner.

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