September is National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate our community members on a journey to recovery and recognize our partner organizations who do so much to help them. Alcohol and drug abuse are issues that have impacted far too many New Mexicans. According to New Mexico’s Health Indicator Data Statistics, since 1990, New Mexico’s death rate for alcohol-related injury has consistently been among the highest in the nation, ranging from 1.4-1.8 times the national rate. These problems are complex and frequently compounded by other factors like poverty and homelessness.
The forthcoming Gateway Medical Sobering Center at the Gibson Health Hub is a sorely needed addition to the existing care infrastructure in Albuquerque. It will be the first of its kind in New Mexico and one of only 40 in the country. The Center’s co-location with other support services, including two accredited behavioral health and addiction treatment hospitals, sets sobering patients up for expedited access and support when they are ready to enter into other services like housing or other unmet social services.
Right now, Bernalillo County CARE campus provides direct-care programs such as the Public Inebriate Intervention Program, a detox unit, and Supportive Aftercare housing program, which includes case management. The Medical Sobering Center will complement the CARE campus by providing a treatment option for people that need dedicated medical monitoring but do not need an emergency room. Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Initiatives is contributing $4.35 million in capital funding to the project, which will cover half of the anticipated first-year costs for the facility.
Between 2018 and 2020, first responders transported more than 30,000 intoxicated, overdosed or unconscious people to local emergency departments. The cost to Albuquerque Fire Rescue alone was over $1 million a year in resources. Hospital emergency rooms are under great amounts of pressure to triage, treat and vacate beds to serve other patients in need. The option provided by the Sobering Center will ensure emergency departments are reserved for acute emergency care and people experiencing addiction can receive help and care tailored to their needs.
The Sobering Center will be part of the suite of services the city is adding in a phased approach to the Gibson Health Hub. The Center, starting with 20 beds, is expected to open in spring 2023, and first responders will be able to transport those in need 24/7. The facility will eventually offer 40 beds following the second phase of construction.
Once inside, patients can rest and will be monitored by medical personnel until they are able to hold down food and walk on their own. It is anticipated the Sobering Center will see patients stay for an average of 6-8 hours, though they may stay up to 23 hours. When a patient is ready to leave, they will meet with a peer support worker who can facilitate transportation or connection to other services inside the Gibson Health Hub, at the CARE campus, or with another community partner.
The city, in partnership with Bernalillo County, is taking action to close a key service gap for our most vulnerable population. The entire community will benefit from building out our health care infrastructure and alleviating the impact on emergency rooms. Too many New Mexicans have been touched by the challenges of addiction, and this is our opportunity to create the specialized services and care response our community urgently needs. By next year’s Recovery Month, Albuquerque will be in an even better position to support those on their journey to recovery.