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UNM researchers find mental health care ‘gaps’

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

About one-third of the people who have mental health problems in Bernalillo County didn’t get the care they needed last year, according to a University of New Mexico estimate.

Researchers at UNM arrived at the figure after interviewing health-care providers about the number of people they serve and examining national data on the prevalence of mental illness and addiction.

Altogether, they estimated about 151,000 people in the county last year had mental health problems that could have been addressed with treatment. But only 98,000 were served by local providers.

“That’s a gap of over 50,000 who could have benefited from treatment and didn’t get into care,” said Caroline Bonham, a UNM psychiatrist who worked on the report.

She and others compiled the report under a contract with the city of Albuquerque.

Proponents of raising taxes to pay for new mental health programs released the report Thursday afternoon.

Based on interviews and other research, Bonham said Bernalillo County faces at least three major “gaps” in services for people struggling with mental illness or addiction.

One area of need is a better “crisis system” for people who need help right away. A task force that includes city, county and state officials has recommended creation of a crisis-stabilization center to address that need – a place where police could take people who need immediate help but shouldn’t go to jail or an emergency room.

The community also needs more options for people who would benefit from intensive outpatient care, Bonham said. These are people who need frequent treatment or counseling but can otherwise live at home.

A third need is for rehabilitative services that help people get back on their feet with a job or education that fits their skills, according to the study.

“We have a lot of good care, but there are some gaps,” Bohman said in a news conference.

City Councilor Klarissa Peña said the study shows the need for more funding to address people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

The ballot measure up in Tuesday’s election asks county voters whether they’d support a one-eighth of a cent gross-receipts tax for mental health services. It would raise about $20 million a year.

In Albuquerque, the tax rate would climb from 7 percent to 7.125 percent.

The election results won’t be binding, but elected leaders say they’re prepared to act on them.

“On a personal level,” Peña said, “I also want to utilize this study to inform local, state and national policymakers about the dire situation we’re facing in our community.”