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BernCo made good on behavioral crisis promise

In a July 15 editorial the Albuquerque Journal stated that the $20 million-a-year gross receipts tax dedicated to funding behavioral health services in Bernalillo County “was supposed to deliver a crisis triage center for those struggling with mental health issues,” implying something was amiss.

This statement vastly oversimplifies the true purpose of the gross receipts funding, which was overwhelmingly passed by county voters in 2014.

In fact, Bernalillo County and its community partners on a daily basis are already delivering the caliber of crisis triage services the tax was intended to support: a broad suite of behavioral health services to meet community needs, not just a crisis triage center. These community-based programs, funded to the tune of $24 million over the past three years, have already benefited more than 80,000 people who were not otherwise being served.

Some history is in order. Voter approval of the gross receipts tax spurred the creation of the Behavioral Health Initiative (BHI) in 2015. This landmark collaboration of Bernalillo County, the city of Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico recognized there were significant unmet behavioral health needs in our community.

Over the past five years, the BHI tax has helped fund multiple initiatives, including mobile crisis teams, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, the Resource Reentry Program, Community Connections supportive housing, Youth Transitional Living services, Reduction of Adverse Childhood Experiences, suicide prevention, behavioral health training and education, Peer Case Management, Peer Support Drop-In Centers and most recently, the Crisis Stabilization Unit located on the CARE Campus.

These services provide the full continuum of support required to meet community behavioral health needs. Unfortunately, many of these needs went unmet after the state’s behavioral health safety network was realigned in 2013, and it has taken considerable time to rebuild needed resources.

In addition to funding these critical safety net services, Bernalillo County has worked closely with UNM Hospital to develop the Crisis Triage and Adult Psychiatric Center. This center would help those in crisis who don’t meet the criteria for psychiatric hospitalization, but whose mental health or substance abuse problems might lead them to jail or an emergency room.

As the Journal reported in January, Bernalillo County and UNMH have executed a memorandum of understanding for the crisis triage center, reflecting an appropriation of $20 million from the county, to be matched by $20 million from UNMH. Earlier this month UNMH identified potential sites for the county to review in advance of the design-and-build process.

In addition to this much-anticipated new facility, UNMH and Bernalillo County staff continue to address additional needs, including partial hospitalization, expansion of behavioral health services at the UNM Psychiatric Center, living room model services and expanded behavioral health services for young people.

We know there is tremendous need in our community for these services. We are committed to thoughtful, data-driven decision-making, relying on best practices and community involvement to ensure that BHI tax receipts are expended in a way that achieves the result we all wish to see.

The Behavioral Health Initiative can take credit for putting our community on the right track at long last. Going forward we will not rest on our laurels, and we will never lose sight of our overarching goal: to improve lives and serve the people of Bernalillo County.

For more detailed information about the Behavioral Health Initiative, visit: Bernco.gov/dbhs.

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