Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
After suffering from drug addiction and homelessness, Leesa Bloom found help through a peer support system. She says it saved her life.
Now, she’s helping others by using her own experiences and giving others hope as a peer support specialist at the newly opened La Sala Crisis Center.
“I bring my life experience, which provides hope for people who are going through it, because I’ve been through it,” Bloom said. “That’s what we do. We bring our experience, strength and hope. It makes a difference, it makes a huge difference.”
She said seeing someone who was in her position at one time get her life back made her feel like “if she can do it, I can do it.”
It’s this hope and inspiration from peer support specialists that Dr. David Ley, executive director of New Mexico Solutions, hopes to incorporate at the crisis center. The center opened July 29 in a limited capacity and, since then, has served about 10 to 15 people.
The La Sala facility encompasses both a mental health crisis center and a detox center.
The eventual goal is to get the crisis center running round the clock because crises don’t always happen between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., the center’s current hours. This expansion will depend on the center’s staffing levels, which Ley said he’s trying to grow.
“La Sala” is Spanish for living room and part of the center’s goal is to mimic a living room. Ley said a clinical setting may be more triggering to people in crisis.
In addition to counseling and outpatient resources, the center has a limited pharmacy and the ability to offer telehealth appointments with psychiatrists or nurse practitioners to provide prescriptions.
The center also has meditation rooms for napping, flexible funding for hotel rooms, showers, and a washer and dryer. There is also an area where law enforcement can drop off people who need help.
“The goal of La Sala is really to try to reduce inappropriate jail use and inappropriate hospitalization, and to try to catch people on their way up before it spins into one of those scenarios,” said Rachel O’Connor, community services director for Santa Fe County.
Both Ley and O’Connor said there has been an increased demand for mental health crisis services since the pandemic.
La Sala was made possible by a $2 million bond approved by the County Commission about a year ago, and has a $1.5 million operating budget, O’Connor said.
In addition to the mental health crisis center, La Sala’s detox center – run by the Santa Fe Recovery Center – is open 24/7 and is a residential treatment facility, said Laura Grant, chief operating officer for the Santa Fe Recovery Center. People can stay at the detox center for a few days, a week or longer – depending on the substance they’re detoxing from. Detox services at La Sala went live in mid-June.
The detox center can house 27 patients, 13 more than before the remodel, Grant said. On the detox side of La Sala, there is a living room, an open-concept bedroom area for patients and various medical equipment.
“We also have medical providers that are available 24 hours a day,” Victoria Gallegos, medical technician supervisor, said. “We also have a nurse’s station here, and they are here round the clock as well, and (patients) are assessed by nurses, pretty much on arrival.”
These medical professionals help monitor withdrawal symptoms, Gallegos said, and administer medication. Now that the detox center is medically monitored, rather than just a social setting detox like it was before, it can help people detox from such harder substances as Valium or Xanax.
The detox center can also use methadone rather than Suboxone for opioid addiction, Gallegos said, and help treat such symptoms as dehydration rather than sending them to the hospital, which the center had to do before.
“I think the demand for detox is significant in Santa Fe County, and this really is going to offer a much expanded service from what we had previously,” O’Connor said. “Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about detox and trying to get into detox services, particularly since you’re seeing an escalation in the drug overdose numbers … it’s good timing to have an expanded service.”