In a single bill in 1889, New Mexico’s territorial legislature authorized construction of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, what is now New Mexico Tech in Socorro and what has become the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, the state’s only public psychiatric hospital.
Las Vegas was a boom town then, thanks to the arrival of the railroad a decade earlier. Today, the population of Las Vegas (estimated at 13,386 in 2015) is shrinking and aging, in part because young people are leaving in search of jobs.
The state mental hospital opened in 1893, and its number of patients reached 1,350 in 1923, according to one report. But with the movement to deinstitutionalize people with mental illness, which began in the 1950s and picked up steam in the 1960s, the number of patients has shrunk dramatically.
The hospital had 850 beds in 1965; it has fewer than 200 operational beds today.
More than 700 people work at the Behavioral Health Institute, which includes not only the psychiatric hospital but outpatient services, a nursing home and a secure home for people with dementia. The institute is run by the state Health Department.
The largest part of the hospital is the adult psychiatric division, which provides court-ordered and voluntary treatment. In 2015, 739 patients were admitted to the division and 726 discharged, according to statistics provided by the Health Department.