Officials say crisis center promising

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque could benefit from a crisis center where people can seek immediate help for mental health emergencies, but it must be part of a larger system of care, leaders said this week after visiting a model facility in Arizona.

A New Mexico delegation made up of government, business and health care officials traveled to Tucson last week to visit Pima County’s Crisis Response Center, which offers short-term treatment for adults and children with mental health and substance abuse emergencies.

Several of them said the center offers a valuable entry point and triage center for Pima County’s behavioral health system and could serve as a model for Albuquerque.

But crisis-stabilization centers only work if other community treatment services are available to provide patients with intermediate and long-term treatment, they said.

“We learned in Tucson that it doesn’t do a lot of good to create a crisis recovery center in Albuquerque if you do not have a solid, effective provider network in place to send patients to,” said Terri Cole, president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, which organized the trip.

The $6.29 billion budget recommendation unveiled Jan. 9 by the Legislative Finance Committee includes $2.5 million for regional crisis stabilization units statewide.

The nine who traveled plan to discuss the trip and decide whether to pursue behavioral health legislation during the 60-day legislative session, which began Tuesday, Cole said.

The Crisis Response Center in Tucson has an annual operating budget of about $20 million, and serves about 1,000 adults and up to 300 children each month, said Rodney McNease, the University of New Mexico’s executive director of behavioral health finance, who toured the facility.

The Tucson center offers an alternative to jails and hospital emergency rooms, which too often are destinations for substance abusers and mentally ill people in Bernalillo County, McNease said. Law enforcement officers deliver about half the center’s patients, he said.

“People who are taken to jail now could be diverted into this crisis system and handled more appropriately,” he said.

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who visited the Tucson center, said New Mexico needs changes in state law that would allow law enforcement officers to take people to a crisis center who may not want to go willingly.

Berry said he supports a bill proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, who has described the measure as a “modified version” of New York’s Kendra’s Law, which authorizes judges to order people to undergo outpatient treatment under some circumstances.

“Papen’s bill wouldn’t be as strong as Arizona’s but it would be a big step forward for New Mexico,” Berry said.

A UNM survey of health care providers released in October estimated that 151,000 Bernalillo County residents had mental health problems that required treatment in 2013, but only 98,000 were served by local providers.

The community needs more intensive outpatient care and rehabilitative services to help people gain a job or education, the report concluded.

Bernalillo County needs to address service gaps for a crisis center to work effectively, McNease said.

“You can’t just talk about the crisis center in isolation,” he said. “You have to talk about it in the context of a broader system of care, and we have other gaps currently in that system.”

Others who traveled to Tucson include Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, state District Judge Nan Nash, Chamber board member Sherman McCorkle, and Dr. Wayne Lindstrom, director of the state Department of Human Services’s behavioral health services division.