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SOUTHWEST COUNSELING CENTER

Out of the ashes: Counseling facility recovering from 2013 devastation

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After a long saga, Border Area Mental Health Services is changing its name back to Southwest Counseling Center and is growing again, with plans to open an office in Anthony.

In 2013, then-Gov. Susana Martinez shut down many of the mental health services in the southern part of the state with charges of fraud and overbilling.

Roque Garcia was running Southwest Counseling in Las Cruces, a nonprofit with ties to Border Services Mental Health in Silver City and New Mexico Human Development in Anthony. All three organizations were shut down by the administration at the time.

“We were accused of fraud of $2.5 million, and they wouldn’t give us any information as to what we had done wrong,” Garcia said. “So they closed us down. Not only clients, but employees, everybody suffered.”

At the point it closed, Southwest Counseling Center was the oldest community mental health program in the state and the largest except for the one at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

It was several years later before the organizations were given information about the claims against them. At Southwest Counseling, Garcia was able to disprove almost every claim made against his organization.

“There were three or four claims that I couldn’t find,” he said. “It turned out to be $350. Everything else we proved.”

The organizations eventually were granted financial settlements from the state and the organizations were able to begin a recovery process. Garcia proposed merging the three organizations to consolidate resources and the individual boards agreed.

“We expanded the board and merged the corporations, and we started providing services,” he said.

Two years ago, the organization, Border Area Mental Health Services, saw need in the outlying areas and began tele-med services.

“At that point, it was unheard of,” Garcia said. “We were really one of the first in the state. Our therapists work from home most of the time. We provided tele-med in Las Cruces, Deming, Silver City and the reservations – Pinehill on the Navajo reservation, and some in Albuquerque.”

He said it has been more difficult to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they were able to get a jump on the tele-med portion.

“Our software is excellent,” he said “We are going forward, we are in a pretty good place. We are hiring more psychiatrists and nurse practitioners. We can also provide at home or on a smartphone. We have people with no computers or smart phones, and they can come into the clinic and we can sit them in front of the screen.”

The organization has nine prescribers and eight therapists, he said. Many clients still prefer in-person visitations, and all clients must visit the clinic for lab-work and other services.

Two of the providers are fluent in Spanish and Garcia said they have a reliable translation service which also offers access to sign language.

They offer psychological services, counseling and juvenile community corrections in the Silver City/Hidalgo area.

The organization takes private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare.

For more information, call 575-388-4497. A website is in development.