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Behavioral health collaborative working to address needs based on survey


An assessment of the community’s behavioral health system shows there are a lot of gaps to fill, but a new coalition of providers, nonprofits, local governments and other interested groups and individuals is working together with a vision of restoring and enhancing services throughout Doña Ana County.

The assessment was presented at a Zoom meeting of LC3, the behavioral health collaborative that organized countywide late last year with funding from Paseo del Norte Foundation, and with Families and Youth, Inc. (FYI) of Las Cruces serving as “the backbone agency.” More than 50 people participated.

The survey showed that since the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez statewide shutdown of behavioral health services in 2013:

  • A gap has developed between needs and services, with fewer specialized and experienced provider support and services available for patients and available providers/agencies at risk of being overloaded;
  • Collaboration has been disrupted, including a loss of trust and communication between providers and patients that has impeded referrals;
  • Patients have been put at risk because of a lack of support and increased difficulty in accessing services, including language barriers, insurance and Medicaid issues and transportation;
  • There has been a lack of government accountability, funding and resources for behavioral health;
  • Responses to the shutdown have included improvised collaboration among agencies to provide services and more training and classes for providers.

Survey respondents said an ideal system would 1) be patient centered; 2) have inclusive services (no barriers to low-income, uninsured or underinsured, undocumented immigrants, Spanish speakers, homeless, patients with criminal records or those who lack transportation to services); 3) provide training and education programs about behavioral and mental health; 4) provide comprehensive care; 5) provide collaboration among agencies, providers and patients; 6) facilitate access to services and referrals; and 7) be community focused, including schools and universities.

The survey was conducted by New Mexico State University’s Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation and Policy Center (SOAR). It included 61 participants from 29 different providers, agencies, departments and organizations, including 15 that work with children, 16 with adults and 18 equally with both. About half the survey participants have more than 10 years of experience in behavior and mental health.

Assessment results were presented during the LC3 meeting by SOAR Director Rachel Boren, Ph.D., and Germain Degardin, senior program specialist.

Boren said a phase-two survey likely will be conducted in late 2020, with the results of the current assessment being used to enhance participation in phase two. Combined results can be used to “prioritize what areas need to be addressed first and what’s most critical,” Boren said, and to begin work on a strategic plan for countywide behavioral health services that includes timelines and deliverables.

“We definitely want your feedback very, very much,” Boren said.

Dr. Amy Cohen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with the American Psychiatric Association, presented information on a new initiative called SMI Adviser, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“SMI Adviser aims to improve the delivery and uptake of evidence-based practices and person-centered care for individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression,” Cohen said. Resources for clinicians, including free accredited learning activities, vetted resources and on-demand consultations, as well as resources for families and individuals, can be found at www.smiadviser.org. 

“One of the things that’s near and dear to me is mental health and developing a seamless continuum of care,” said Las Cruces Mayor Pro-Tem Kasandra Gandara, a licensed social worker. The city is “very committed” to working with Doña Ana County to provide services, she said.

Dr. Jo Velasquez, co-owner and operator of iNetMed Rx² Inc., a clinical psychology/psychiatric services and behavioral medicine management company in Las Cruces, said iNetMed Rx² is working with city officials on a plan to address mental illness in Las Cruces.

“Everyone has such a wonderful vision for our community, and we can continue to build our infrastructure so we can help people, said Rose Ann Vasquez, LC3 coordinator for FYI.

LC3 meets 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month. Meetings are open to the public. Contact Vasquez at 575-522-4004 and rvasquez@fyinm.org for more information.

American Psychiatric Association resources

Visit the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) website at www.psychiatry.org for links to additional COVID-19 resources and information. Under Newsroom at the bottom of the home page, click on News Releases, then, at the bottom of that page, click on the “2” box and see the news release from March 25 on APA survey results about the impact of COVID-19 on mental well-being.