Hospital could help ‘mental health crisis’
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
Doña Ana County Commissioner Wayne Hancock told a joint work session of the commission and the Las Cruces City Council Tuesday, Oct. 13, that a feasibility study is now under way to determine the cost, location, potential funding sources and other factors related to the possible construction of a mental health hospital in the county.
Reports dating back as far as 1972 show the need for “improved mental health services in New Mexico and in Doña Ana County,” Hancock said. The county and city need to “get a handle on what we can do,” he said.
$25 million cost?
As an indication of the seriousness of the prob-
lem, Hancock said the Third Judicial District (which is Doña Ana County) involuntarily admitted 1,211 people to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, N.M. (the only state-owned and operated psychiatric hospital in New Mexico) in 2014, and has admitted 1,076 so far this year. The hospital, he said, has a total of 75 beds. He also said “in excess of 50 percent of the individuals in our detention center have some sort of mental health problem.”
“We need to take as much action as we can on this,” Hancock said. He said a 150-bed hospital likely would cost about $25 million. The state could provide substantial funding, he said, and other funding sources could include the city and county, other cities and counties in the region that might be included in the project, and potentially, the federal government.
‘Mental health crisis’
Hancock said New Heights Group, an independent health care consulting firm in Santa Fe, has been hired to conduct the study.
“I commend the county for moving ahead with the mental health hospital,” said Councillor Nathan Small. “The common sense next step,” he said, is for the city to cooperate with the county on the feasibility study. Small said at least part of a city contribution to the hospital could come from city liability funds now held by Memorial Medical Center.
“I think the city should support this feasibility study,” said Councillor Gill Sorg. “It’s high time we get it done.”
“I don’t think there is any question that we’ve got a mental health crisis in this state and this area,” said Councillor Ceil Levatino.
“Every single family has someone with some level of mental illness,” Hancock said. “It takes a tremendous toll on the community. We need to aggressively deal with this issue.”
Commission Chairman Billy Garrett said the issue reminded him of a rugby scrum. For a long time, people have been “wrestling with each other to see who is going to get the ball and run with it,” he said. Hopefully, the feasibility study “will break this open,” Garrett said. Building a mental hospital in the county could also provide “a major economic development program in addition to the services we could provide,” Garrett said.
Early childhood education
The joint work session also heard from Frank Lopez, executive director of Emerge New Mexico, a non-profit supporting the Success Partnership early childhood education initiative.
Lopez described early childhood education as activities and experiences that affect childhood development through age eight. The most critical age group is children zero to three years old, of which there are 15,000 in the county, with about 3,000 added each year, he said.
A baby is born with a brain the size of an orange, Lopez said. By the time he or she is three years old, it has grown to the size of a cabbage. If brain development doesn’t take place during this time, the brain turns off unused connections that will never develop, he said.
Lopez listed seven goals in the Success Partnership plan: public awareness so that parents and other caregivers are aware of all available services; fully integrated learning systems to provide for a child’s seamless entry into the education system; full access to early education; workforce
M-F development to attract the best staff to work with young children; parent and family engagement; creating an early childhood hub to provide one place where parents could find representatives from all relevant agencies and organizations, and which might include a children’s museum; and accountability.
Early childhood education is also important because it will have a substantial impact on the city’s and county’s future workforce, he said. “Early childhood education can have a ripple effect and an incredible impact on quality of life,” Lopez said.
County Community Development Director Daniel Hortert told the work session the Viva Doña Ana (VDA) regional initiative is continuing to work on sustainable development projects throughout the county.
VDA “includes a consortium of local governments, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and consultant partners that are dedicated to planning and implementing projects to improve the future of the