News Article Details

It’s past time to make mental health program real

Albuquerque Journal - 1/9/2018

Back in October 2014, an op-ed in the Journal said voters should approve an increase in the gross receipts tax to fund mental health programs because “We know how to use the money to improve our mental health system. … The City-County Behavioral Health Task Force … recommendations closely resemble recommendations made in 2012, 2011, 2007, 2004 and even 1986. We most urgently need a crisis response center, supportive housing, targeted case management, a mobile crisis response team, forensic assertive community treatment, intermediate care group homes and two community engagement teams to link people to needed treatment and services.”

The op-ed, by attorney Peter Cubra, president and founder of Advocacy Inc., also said “the $19 million that a 1/8 percent tax would generate annually would be a ‘game changer.’ ”

And in 2018, more than three years after voters said yes to an advisory question on the topic and the county started collecting that tax, everyone — especially those struggling with mental illness and addiction — is still waiting for the game to change.

And for what’s now close to $60 million in taxes to be used for what was promised.

Because in December, a spokeswoman for Bernalillo County’s Behavioral Health Initiative explained the mobile crisis teams were still on hold “due to a couple of factors.”

Breanna Anderson said there’s been trouble finding five independently licensed, master’s level social workers and counselors to pair with law enforcement. The two-person teams are supposed to try to de-escalate situations involving people experiencing or at the risk of experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

That’s right — the lack of a handful of qualified social workers is a main reason for failing to have in place a mobile crisis response team to help address at least one aspect of our community’s horrific behavioral health care crisis. Even though officials have been kicking this idea around since 1986 and have collected $60 million in tax dollars since 2015 to fund this and other programs.

Anderson told the Journal “We’re hoping those clinicians are out there and just haven’t come to us yet.”

There is a master of social work degree offered by Highlands University in Rio Rancho, Farmington, Roswell and Santa Fe. How about someone going to Highlands officials and setting up a pipeline, say, at least four years ago?

Now that one, and perhaps two, clinicials have been hired, Anderson says the plan is to “roll out the teams in mid-January. If we were to rush this or sacrifice our standards, it would be a complete disservice to the community.”

Tragedies that didn’t have to happen — including James Boyd, suffering from schizophrenia and fatally shot by police in the Sandia foothills, and Christopher Torres, suffering from schizophrenia and fatally shot by police in his family’s backyard — are the real disservice: to those individuals, their families and the taxpayers who subsequently paid out millions in settlements. These teams have been desperately needed for years. And expecting the implementation of a plan more than 30 years after a concept has been introduced, and more than three years after it is funded at public expense, is far from “rushing” things.


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