New Mexico organizations are combining new behavioral health high tech and low-tech strategies to fight addiction across Navajo reservations in northern New Mexico. In addressing some of the root causes of these issues, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation introduced the Pathway’s Project, a four-year program that began this year to identify and address many of the underlying causes of these conditions. They identified Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Gallup-McKinley and San Juan County as locations to launch job creation programs.
Organizations such as Gallup’s Na’ Nihzhoozhi Center Inc.’s (NCI) has 26,000 admissions every year and is the nation’s busiest treatment center with many repeat customers. The detox center was the result of an effort 30 years ago, which began when more than 5,000 people marched from Gallup to Santa Fe to demand assistance from state lawmakers and received $400,000 for a study to build a detoxification center. The hospital then received $2 million in an ongoing yearly federal grant, out of which NCI was born.
The leader of that effort in the 1980s and ’90s was David Conejo, who returned in 2014 as the CEO of Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services (RMCHCS), where he continues to lead the fight against addiction with traditional tactics but also behavioral health care innovations that have captured the attention of the health care industry.
Conejo took a financially failing hospital and turned it around with the help of William Kiefer, the hospital’s chief operating officer. Recognizing the root cause of the region’s health problem was addiction, Conejo revitalized a former rehab building on the hospital’s grounds and with some fundraising launched the Behavioral Health Treatment Center. It is operated by Ophelia Reeder, a long time health care advocate for the Navajo Nation and board member of Gallup Indian Medical Center. Bill Camorata, a former addict, is the Behavioral Special Projects Director. He opened “Bill’s Place,” an outdoor facility where he and hospital volunteers treat the homeless with meals, clothing and medical triage as part of Gallup’s Immediate Action Group, which he founded and serves as president. The center has treated more than 200 addicted residents since 2015 and has a staff of 30 who manage residents’ case work, provide behavioral health services and are certified in peer support.