BernCo has done much with Behavioral Health Tax - Albuquerque Journal

BernCo has done much with Behavioral Health Tax

Re: “2015 Behavioral Health Tax Benefits So Far Unrealized”

The Behavioral Health Tax benefits are already being realized in several important and beneficial ways.

Behavioral health issues and crises have been at a record high not just in New Mexico, but nationally, for the past three years. This is a major concern for all. Many people reading this may have a family member or know someone experiencing mental health issues. As concerned citizens of our county and volunteer members of the Behavioral Health Initiative (BHI) Crisis Subcommittee, we welcome the opportunity to share the facts and invite community participation.

The 1/8 of 1% sales tax costs each of us approximately $15 a year. After this measure was approved, four subcommittees were formed to oversee and guide the use of these funds and make sure they were wisely spent. Community volunteers were chosen to serve on either the Crisis, Housing, Community Supports, or Prevention, Intervention and Harm Reduction subcommittees. Steady progress is being made to address these concerns in ways that are designed to be incremental, systemic and sustainable. Often, BHI funding is leveraged across jurisdictions and involves multiple partnerships with mental health and community support organizations.

The Crisis Subcommittee decided the long-term goal was to build a Behavioral Health Crisis Center at University Hospital to provide much-needed services to those in immediate need. First, however, it was important to build infrastructure to support the behavioral health concerns and needs at the community level. It was necessary to set aside funds each year to build the center. The groundbreaking will be held next month after years of saving, planning and preparation.

To provide some of the infrastructure, our committee helped fund six mobile crisis teams (MCT) in our county. Each team consists of a highly trained police officer paired with a master’s level clinician to answer 911 calls involving behavioral health issues. These MCTs have saved the lives of many living with mental illness and supported their families and loved ones. The teams can provide resources and emergency transport, if needed. An additional team, with county Fire and Rescue, has an EMT paired with a clinician for those with medical issues.

Our committee also worked on the following:

•  A CARE Unit on Zuni SE that provides detox and substance abuse treatment and crisis stabilization services.

• The Re-Entry Center, which provides support, referrals and services needed to help start a new life for those leaving the Metropolitan Detention Center.

We, as a committee, are especially excited and proud that the Behavioral Health Center, located in the University of New Mexico Hospital complex, will soon be a reality. This is another project supported by funds provided by the Behavioral Health Tax.

Each of these funded projects and services have already helped our community deal with serious behavioral health concerns on a long-term basis. Each of the other three subcommittees initiated additional proposals which funded other important projects and services in our community.

To summarize, when someone tells you the behavioral health tax benefits are so far unrealized, you can tell them about the Behavioral Health Crisis Center, the Mobile Crisis Teams, the Care Unit and the Re-Entry Center, among other proactive and fiscally sound approaches to improving mental health and community support resources. That’s a good return on a $15 investment. And these are proposals that have come from just the Crisis Subcommittee. We realize there are still many issues regarding mental health and well-being. As we come out of the pandemic, we are continually looking for ways to improve our collective work.

As you can see, our county benefits from these BHI services. We owe BHI personnel our appreciation and gratitude for their work in funding and supervising these programs.

In closing, we realize there is much more work to do to address behavioral health and related concerns in our communities. Our ask is the Journal and our communities help us be more proactive even when we are not in total agreement on how to best move forward.


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