ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County commissioners hired an Arizona-based nonprofit group late Tuesday to help build a new network of behavioral- and mental-health programs.
The goal is to develop a regional agency – backed, at least in part, by $20 million from a new county tax – that helps coordinate services to people struggling with mental illness, drug addiction or both.
Tuesday’s action authorized a $325,000 contract with Community Partners Inc. of Tucson, which must create a preliminary behavioral health plan by June 12. A more comprehensive business plan is due Dec. 1.
The company has helped operate a similar system in the Tucson area, and it was the highest-rated among six groups seeking the work.
Neal Cash, president and CEO of Community Partners, said he hoped to build consensus among government agencies about how to coordinate services and fill in gaps in the network. His company will recommend a governance structure.
It’s important to come up with a “group that checks egos at the door” and cooperates across jurisdictions, Cash said.
Commissioners approved the contract without opposition.
They also adopted a resolution establishing a regional working group on behavioral health. Several commissioners said they hoped Community Partners would take the lead in working with the group, which is charged with:
- Identifying what services are now available and who pays for them.
- Developing priorities for what’s needed.
- Working toward regional partnerships.
Membership would include city, county and state agencies, in addition to private nonprofit companies that provide services.
County Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins called the group’s creation “a key point in moving forward that we identify what dollars are being spent now in the midregion area. We know that there are lots of dollars being spent and lots of services being provided, but not necessarily in a coordinated system.”
The working group won approval on a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Wayne Johnson in dissent. He asked to postpone a decision while discussing joint legislation with city councilors, to ensure cooperation.
Hart Stebbins said it was appropriate for the county to take the lead – given that commissioners approved a new gross receipts tax that goes into effect July 1 – and Commissioner Lonnie Talbert added that he didn’t want to delay.
Art De La Cruz joined them in favor. Debbie O’Malley was absent.
The move to launch new programs comes as scrutiny builds over the gaps in the service network for Bernalillo County residents suffering from mental illness or addiction.
A University of New Mexico report last year estimated that about one-third of the people who have mental health problems in Bernalillo County didn’t get the care they needed.