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Boarding homes face emergency oversight rules

The Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Journal file)

SANTA FE – Citing immediate health risks, New Mexico is moving to impose emergency rules on boarding homes that accept patients discharged from mental health institutions.

The new regulations require boarding homes – previously unregulated – to apply for a license within 30 days and meet basic health and safety requirements. The emergency action comes as the state pushes to improve conditions for people discharged from the state psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas and other institutions throughout New Mexico.

“These emergency rules are absolutely necessary to address the immediate risks to life and safety experienced by certain residents of boarding homes in New Mexico,” Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said in a written statement.

New Mexico has struggled for years with how to improve the living conditions of former psychiatric patients. Discharged patients have sometimes ended up in backyard sheds, unfinished garages and crowded trailer homes.

In 2013, two men died of carbon monoxide poisoning at a boarding home, where they paid a total of $1,100 a month to live in a shed without plumbing.

The emergency rules cover boarding homes that provide their residents with at least some level of help with daily living activities.

Hotels, homeless shelters and standard landlord-tenant arrangements are not covered by the new regulation.

Owners of boarding homes covered by the new regulation will face background checks and unannounced site visits by the state. They must also show they have enough resources to operate for at least six months.

Longer-term rules are also under development. The Department of Health plans to propose permanent rules for boarding homes in February and hold a public hearing in March.

A Journal investigation in 2016 found that residents of some boarding homes in Las Vegas lived in crowded conditions and some went hungry because meals provided by operators were inadequate.

The following year, state lawmakers approved legislation calling on the Department of Health to develop new rules for boarding homes. The proposal would have left it up to local governments to decide whether to adopt the regulations.

Then-Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the bill, describing it as unnecessary.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who took office this year, has made oversight of the boarding homes a priority.

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