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County detox center evolving

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The county’s longtime detox center is undergoing a multimillion-dollar evolution.

A major renovation at the Bernalillo County CARE campus – formerly known as the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services center, or MATS – is underway, and a newly appropriated $4 million will create an outpatient behavioral health clinic and “living room” space for peer-to-peer counseling sessions.

The move marks further progress to expand beyond the facility’s longtime exclusive focus on treating substance abuse. The center, until now, has provided a spectrum of services for clients wrestling with addiction: a 23-hour observation service for those sobering up, a social model detoxification program and on-site living quarters for those who want support after getting clean. In the past few months, a partnership with University of New Mexico Hospital has raised the level of medical care available to detox clients, and officials say the collaboration will continue to yield other changes. Notably, the campus will begin providing suboxone treatment for opioid users, a medication-assisted treatment service not previously offered on-site.

“Turquoise Lodge Hospital was our medical provider prior to UNMH, and it was not something they were interested in pursuing. Now that we have UNMH as a partner, they’re excited to offer this,” said Margarita Chavez-Sanchez, the county’s behavioral health services director. She said the service is expected to begin “in the coming months.”

The campus’s planned outpatient behavioral health clinic – which UNM will also staff – will ultimately provide suboxone clients a place for continued treatment maintenance, although it will also serve patients with a range of mental health issues.

Chavez-Sanchez said that there is ongoing need for more outpatient services both among detoxification clients but also among the larger community, and that the county is looking to fill that need with the CARE campus.

“We really are doing our best to convert to a larger behavioral health service provider, so we can serve clients who have never touched a substance, but have a primary mental health need,” Chavez-Sanchez said. “It’s really going to become a ‘no wrong door’ location where people can come and get help, whether it’s substance or mental health needs first.”

The project is among several behavioral health expenditures the County Commission approved last week. The county will use $4 million from its behavioral health tax revenue to cover the new outpatient clinic and living room space. It should take about 18 months.

There are another $6 million in renovations elsewhere on the campus already happening, and Chavez-Sanchez said deferred revenue from grants will cover the rest.

“I think this is a great move for the county,” County Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins said before the approval last week. “I know that there’s been conversations for a long time about providing a larger range of services out of MATS, particularly medically based services.”

Since 2015, the county has collected a special, voter-approved tax meant for behavioral health services. The tax has generated $91.6 million. The county has spent $20 million of the money but has earmarked the bulk of what it amassed for one-time expenditures, such as $30 million for a new crisis triage center on UNM property, $12 million for supportive housing and this CARE campus update.

The county has also developed a series of programs that it plans to fund on a recurring basis that will eventually cost an estimated $19 million per year.

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