When Bernalillo County instituted a special behavioral health tax seven years ago, one of the chief expectations was that the county would use the money to create a treatment option for people experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis who might otherwise end up in the emergency room or even jail.
The county partially achieved that goal by opening a crisis stabilization unit inside its CARE Campus in Southeast Albuquerque in late 2019, though County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said it is more of a “social” model with peer support systems.
The county is still working on the full, purpose-built facility on the University of New Mexico campus to support higher-acuity clients. It has set aside $30 million for the project, including $20 million for construction and $10 million for operations.
Officials expect to break ground later this month and have it open in early 2024.
“I do acknowledge it’s long overdue,” Morgas Baca said.
She said there are reasons it took years to get to this point. The county had to identify a medical partner – ultimately making an agreement with UNM Hospital – find a specific location and go through the university’s own project approval process. The parties settled on a site with a pair of university buildings south of Marble and west of Vassar. They were occupied so the university had to find other space for those employees and services. The buildings then required demolition.
The facility will ultimately have 16 patient rooms where people can stay for up to 14 days, plus a “peer living room” for potential peer support or counseling, UNMH CEO Kate Becker told the Bernalillo County Commission last month.
It will also include 10 exam rooms for psychiatric emergency services and shell space “probably for more outpatient behavioral health access,” Becker said.