Crisis center breaks ground to fill behavioral health care gap - Albuquerque Journal

Crisis center breaks ground to fill behavioral health care gap

Against a backdrop of construction equipment, Dr. Michael Richards, of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, addresses a crowd at Monday’s groundbreaking for the Behavioral Health Crisis Center. From left: Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca; Richards; UNM President Garnett Stokes; and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Behavioral Health Crisis Center “is the realization of a vision that’s been almost two decades in the making,” said Dr. Michael Richards, senior vice president for clinical affairs at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

The result of a partnership between the University of New Mexico Hospital and Bernalillo County, the 49,000-square-foot facility will consist of a crisis triage center, 16 patient rooms where people can stay for up to 14 days, 10 exam rooms for psychiatric emergency services and a peer “living room” for peer support and counseling.

The center, expected to open in January 2024, is intended to bridge an existing gap in the continuum of care of health services for individuals needing care who are not acute enough to be in the hospital, but still need more support than just regular outpatient care.

“The need in New Mexico cannot be understated,” Richards said. According to an assessment by UNM’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, there are over 300,000 adults and 200,000 children in New Mexico who need mental health services, and only 44% get the services required, he said. Taken separately as a group, only 37% of children get the services they need.

When those services are not in place at the right time for the right patient, it results in increased usage of emergency departments and psychiatric emergency services, in addition to “avoidable encounters with law enforcement and increased homelessness,” both of which have huge community impacts, Richards said.

In addition, of those patients with chronic and severe behavioral disorders, about 55% also have chronic physical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, congestive pulmonary disease or substance use disorder, he said.

The new crisis and triage system “will also create additional psychiatric emergency capacity with the expansion of the psychiatric emergency services, and it will create a model of care that will be more efficient and more effective for New Mexicans,” Richards said.

Further, as part of the university’s educational mission, the Behavioral Health Crisis Center will provide an environment to “train the multidisciplinary behavioral health workforce that we need for tomorrow,” he added.

University of New Mexico and Bernalillo County officials turn over dirt during a Monday groundbreaking ceremony for the $40 million Behavioral Health Crisis Center. It is expected to open in January 2024. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told those assembled that the new center will help reclaim some of the ground lost when former Gov. Susana Martinez shut down 15 behavioral health providers, alleging fraud. Most of those providers never reopened and Attorney General Hector Balderas later cleared them, having found no evidence of fraud.

“You want a chilling effect on having actual providers,” she said, “tell them that they are no longer licensed to do that work in the state of New Mexico.”

Lujan Grisham said her administration has “eliminated behavioral health copays for hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans to make services affordable and accessible.” And in a “sneak peek” at her expansion budget in December, she said she will ask the Legislature to underwrite some of the training for behavioral health professionals, including psychiatrists and addictionologists.

For New Mexicans who want to attend UNM’s medical school, “let’s have the state pay for that, and you stay and practice right here,” she said.

The cost of the new facility is estimated at $40 million, to be split by UNMH and Bernalillo County and funded in part by a behavioral health initiative tax passed by Bernalillo County voters in 2014.

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