Mental Health Advocates Hope to Expand Treatment Options in Doña Ana County

Jul 25, 2018

The League of Women Voters of Greater Las Cruces marked its 50th anniversary by hosting county and state mental health leaders who spoke about addressing the needs of people with mental illness in the region.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration data show about 44 percent of New Mexican adults with any mental illness received treatment services from 2011 to 2015, while the majority received no services.

Doña Ana County Health and Human Services Director Jamie Michael said the county is coordinating with treatment providers and social service agencies to provide more services and with local law enforcement to divert arrests. The county also launched its Assisted Outpatient Treatment pilot program in 2017, which mandates court-ordered treatment for patients likely to harm themselves or others. Michael said about 20 percent of the $2.8 million in federal funding for the four-year program goes to collecting and analyzing data.

“We want to show what kind of outcomes we’re getting for the money. So, the money sometimes is spent before it’s even here,” Michael said. “But it is allowing us to bring partners together to fill some gaps in funding for treatment and to have that coordinated care. Although it’s for a few people, it’s a small number of people that qualify for the program and would really benefit from the program because it’s not intended for the large population. It’s intended for very few people who are really struggling to comply with their treatment plans.”

Doña Ana County Health and Human Services Director Jamie Michael, center, speaks with National Alliance on Mental Illness New Mexico President Kimmie Jordan, left, about mental health treatment services the county provides.
Credit Michael Hernandez

The county has also struggled to get its Crisis Triage Center up and running since it was built next to the county detention center in 2013. Doña Ana County Manger Fernando Macias said the county hasn’t had the resources or funding to operate the facility on its own. Macias said the original goal for the Crisis Triage Center was to help transition people with serious mental health issues out of the county’s detention center.

“The other purpose was for a place that law enforcement could bring someone who was having some kind of episode rather than taking them directly to jail. So, we're not attempting to serve all of the issues related to mental health in the community. There's no purpose for doing that since a good portion of it is already being addressed by a variety of service providers in the community,” Macias said. “What we're trying to do is create the linkage between those that would be appropriate to have serviced out in the community rather than maintaining them for long periods of time in the detention center.”

Macias said the county is proposing remodeling the facility to move professionals from its contracted medical health and service provider, Corizon Health, who work in the detention center into the crisis triage building to treat detainees.

“We have to use the space in a better, more consistent basis when you're dealing with people that are in custody and the repurposing of it means that it's not a traditional triage crisis center, it is servicing the needs of the medical and behavioral health needs of those in custody,” Macias said.

Support from friends and family can play a significant role in increasing the effectiveness of mental health treatment. Kimmie Jordan is vice-president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter in Doña Ana County. Jordan said NAMI’s free classes, like its 12-week, evidence-based Family-to-Family program, help teach coping and problem-solving skills to members of loved ones with mental illness.

“Because sometimes it’s just knowing that you’re not alone whether it be as a family member, as an individual who’s living with a diagnosis and being able to share your story and learn what resources are available,” Jordan said. “A lot of everything is word of mouth. You know we learn from talking to somebody else. So, a lot of times if we could have people be able to enter those classes or enter those support groups, they’d be able to learn additional resources in the community that can help them and other people that they know.”

Workforce shortages are another major hurdle to expanding services and treatment options. A 2017 review by physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins ranked psychiatrists second on the list of its most requested recruiting assignments two years running. Michael said the county is working to recruit more people into the behavioral health field by forming a psychiatric residency program with the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine.

After a physician goes to medical school they get to choose a residency and if we can recruit people that are looking at psychiatry and we can let them do their residency here in our community, they’ll be much more likely to stay in our community and practice in our community long-term. So, that not only has an impact on our healthcare system but it also has a huge economic impact in our community,” Michael said.

That economic impact goes far beyond mental health services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted employment in healthcare occupations would grow 18 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. This projected growth is mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for healthcare services.