I am involved with the Metro Behavioral Health Initiative. It’s the focus of the articles “$17M in new taxes; no mental health programs yet” and “County must pay up on its mental health promise” in the Albuquerque Journal the week of July 17.
Sometime back, the Journal covered city and county officials’ visit to Tucson’s exemplary behavioral health program for arrested citizens whose offenses may have been triggered by mental health or substance abuse issues, together considered “behavioral health.” The Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Commission contracted with Community Partners Inc., which designed the Tucson program, to create a business plan for the $17 million from the gross receipts tax. They interviewed 293 “stakeholders,” including charities, government agencies, clinics and private providers. Last December, Community Partners Inc. delivered a business plan and budget that can be found at www.bernco.gov.
I know taxpayers are primed for change and would be gratified to see a new facility or program, something concrete. The business plan more realistically focuses on using “existing state and local resources that can serve as the foundation of a crisis-service network rather than building it from the ground up” and “addressing priority service gaps with revenue generated from the Behavioral Health GRT.”
The CPI report identified annual spending within the metro area already at $30 million for behavioral health crisis intervention and services.
The business plan introduces the concept of “braided” financing. An example would be the University of New Mexico mill levy revenue dedicated to expanding psychiatry bed capacity while, by agreement, using Metro BHI tax dollars to pay for staffing.
The business plan identifies four areas covering most of our community’s needs: Acute Crisis Intervention, Stabilization and Community Supports (I’m co-chairman of that committee), Housing, and Prevention and Harm Reduction.
Volunteers who are “people with first-hand experience of living with mental illness and/or substance abuse, along with community leaders and stakeholders” staff the committees. There is overlap between committees; sometimes, we combine meetings. A steering committee of the chair and co-chairmen of committees and others allows ideas to mix.
The editorials’ concern about “shoveling new money into an old housing program” has an interesting back story. The same time the behavioral health GRT came into being last summer, a pilot program was started at the detention center giving housing to those released.
Studies show community housing is cheaper than jail beds. Families are back together, services are easier to provide, reduced numbers of those released from jail return for new crimes.
Our Housing Committee feels supporting this “Community Connections” program is good use of the tax dollars. We hope to provide behavioral and community services at housing sites, possibly by mobile teams.
We are currently reviewing a “Data Analysis and Evaluation” proposal to clarify the success or failure of programs that can help guide future spending.
Reading the Journal this week, I realized how hungry the community is for information on the Metro Behavioral Health Initiative. My goal here is to provide understanding and accountability.
Participants of the Metro BHI are volunteers, many from the 293 stakeholders, professionals and individuals with life experiences that transformed them who stepped forward and said, “I have ideas and I want to make change happen.”
I additionally want people to know what is happening.
Dr. Kathy Finch is co-chairman of the Stabilization and Community Support Committee for the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Commission Behavioral Health Initiative.