New Mexico is experiencing a shortage of behavioral health providers, which has left vulnerable groups, such as young people and criminal offenders, at greater risk of mental health incidents. Here are some ways that the state is addressing its unique behavioral health needs.
Gaps Creating a Crisis for New Mexico Behavioral Health Services
Long waiting lists, provider shortages, and high rates of alcohol and drug overdoses are creating a crisis for behavioral health services in New Mexico. Even in big cities, organizations cannot hire enough therapists, says Justin Nutt, deputy executive director at Mental Health Resources Inc. Other struggles include low provider pay, low use of medication-assisted treatment, a complicated billing system, low Medicaid reimbursement, and poor care coordination.
New Mexico Youths Struggle With Addiction
According to a report from the state’s Legislative Finance Committee, New Mexico ranks among the worst in the nation for minors suffering from addiction. Currently the state has no detox facilities for youth, leaving many to detox in hospitals or jail cells.
Another problem is the increasing prevalence of fentanyl, which has become “the drug of choice” for youth, says Jennifer Weiss-Burke, executive director at Serenity Mesa Youth Recovery Center. Weiss-Burke notes that the center’s Medicaid billing system has low reimbursement and often struggles with denied claims. In addition, about 20 percent of New Mexico providers do not serve Medicaid patients.
New Mexico Sees Reduced Youth Suicide
The news is not all bad when it comes to young people in New Mexico. Provisional data reported by the Department of Health Epidemiology and Response Division show that the rate of suicide among youth ages 5 to 18 years declined from 2020 to 2021. The final data is expected later in 2022.
Contributors to the lowered rates include:
- Deliberate efforts to increase mental health education
- Efforts from the New Mexico Suicide Prevention Coalition, which also has an active Native American Workgroup
- Partnerships across the state to focus on youth suicide prevention
Diversion Programs Remain Underused
The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee report included information on behavioral health outcomes in the criminal justice system. According to analysts, over-incarceration is making behavioral health outcomes worse, and law enforcement organizations should make better use of diversion, drug courts, and reentry services.
Adolfo Mendez, chief of Policy and Planning with the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said the office has worked to eliminate barriers to diversion. While there are currently 167 people enrolled in the felony diversion program and 41 in the misdemeanor program, Mendez hopes to fill up the programs full and bring their capacity to 400. Other available resources include a mobile center that connects people in the high-crime International District to the help they need.
New Grant Could Expand Mental Healthcare
A group of organizations, including United Way of Eastern New Mexico, will receive a $2 million grant from the U.S. Human Resources and Services Administration. This grant will help bring more mental health services to Curry, Roosevelt, De Baca, and Quay counties. The funding will also support student behavioral health providers at Clovis Community College and Eastern New Mexico University.
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