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Summit highlights behavioral health priorities

Jamie Silva-Steele.

Jamie Silva-Steele.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The need for inpatient mental health care, continuing care after discharge and dissemination of information rose to the top among priorities at a recent behavioral health care summit.

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center CEO Jamie Silva-Steele said more than 70 people from 50 to 60 agencies around the region participated in the Sandoval County Behavioral Health Coalition Summit most of the day on May 1 at Club Rio Rancho.

Assistance agencies presented their services. Participants discussed strong and weak points of mental health care in Sandoval County, as well as brainstormed and voted on priorities to improve.

Silva-Steele said she expects to receive a report on the summit in the next couple of weeks. Then the coalition will review it and look at the next steps, including seeking grant money and partnering with other counties already dealing with similar issues, she said.

Shelby Smith.

Shelby Smith.

Rio Rancho City Councilor Shelby Smith, who helped start the coalition, said he wants gaps in mental health care closed and to avoid situations where law enforcement uses lethal force on a mental health patient due to lack of communication and resources.

Inpatient care

He and Silva-Steele agreed that a top priority that arose in discussion was more inpatient psychiatric treatment.

“Within the community, folks felt having inpatient facilities for the age group 18 to 50 is a top priority,” Silva-Steele said.

SRMC has 12 inpatient beds for geriatric mental health patients, but Smith wants to have spots for younger people and veterans in Sandoval County. Now, they have to go to Albuquerque for that level of treatment.

“We’re a county with two hospitals now, so it’s time for us to start addressing the issues of the citizens of Sandoval County with Sandoval County,” Smith said.

Ongoing help

He and Silva-Steele agreed that another priority is connecting people with mental illness to ongoing care after discharge from the hospital.

Silva-Steele said summit participants discussed creating an online database and a smartphone app to list agencies, their services and even real-time information on how many inpatient beds are available.

Rio Rancho Police Lt. Nicholas Onken, a coalition member, said knowing what resources are available would prevent duplication of efforts, and allow police to point mental health patients and their families to assistance.

To have a better way of dealing with high-need, high-risk people, Silva-Steele said, summit participants envisioned one or more crisis centers that would provide professional treatment and help with basic needs, such as housing.

Police training

Smith, a retired Rio Rancho Police sergeant, said law enforcement training in dealing with people in a mental health crisis is also important.

About two-thirds of Rio Rancho officers have received at least 10 hours of such training, according to Onken.

Smith said it would help law enforcement officers if they were notified when someone was released from a psychiatric ward about where that person was and what care he or she needed.

It’s hard to get every officer trained on de-escalating situations involving mental illness, he continued, so it would help if an officer or two were prepared for possible calls dealing with specific individuals.

“As long as they know what they’re dealing with, they know how to address it,” Smith said.

However, privacy laws come into play and any dissemination of information would have to work within that system.

Smith, Silva-Steele and Onken said the summit was productive.