LAS CRUCES – The long-empty Doña Ana County Crisis Triage Center will begin offering jail diversion and community reentry services in April, but a business plan is still being formulated to address how the center will open its crisis services to the public.
County Health and Human Services Director Jamie Michael and County Manager Fernando Macias told the Doña Ana County Commission Tuesday the crisis triage center — which was completed in 2013 but never opened due to a lack of a provider and operating funds — will open April 1.
When the center opens, it will first connect mentally ill individuals exiting the Doña Ana County Detention Center to representatives from local behavioral health care providers, via face-to-face introductions.
It will also offer low-level nonviolent offenders the choice to seek mental health services at the triage center instead of jail time if a police officer determines they aren’t a risk.
Those services will be voluntary and will be funded using a combination of grant and state money. The reentry services will first focus on opioid users.
A business plan for running the center is being crafted by a consultant called Recovery Innovations International. RII is expected to provide the plan to the county at the May 29 county commission meeting.
The plan will provide options for billing patients, how many patients the center can serve and how much the center will cost to operate, according to Michael.
The business plan is one of several steps toward fulfilling the other longstanding goal of the triage center — to evaluate and stabilize people experiencing mental health crises, who haven’t committed any crimes, and connect them to behavioral care providers.
Patients could either be brought in under law enforcement custody or choose to walk into the center.
Aside from the business plan, Michael said the other big obstacle to beginning triage services is attaining a state license for the center.
The triage center could either be licensed to provide stabilization stays lasting 23 hours or less, or it could be licensed to also provide 14-day observations, Michael said.
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When it opens April 1, the building will be staffed with reentry program staff and workers representing local services.
“The services are care coordination services, not healthcare services, so we do not need a clinical operator until it opens as a crisis triage center,” Michael said in a statement.
The county will look at reforming its mobile crisis response team to address mental health patients at the scene so they don’t have to use the center.
Some commissioners and attendees shared concerns the region’s hospitals lack the space to accommodate patients transferred from the center to another inpatient facility.
Michael said the region has enough bed space to accommodate transferred patients and said suggestions to build a regional mental hospital would spread current resources thin.
“The evidence I’ve seen says that we have plenty of beds for certain circumstances. We always need more specialty beds,” Michael said. “We definitely don’t have enough providers to care for people in beds, so they would just be empty beds because you wouldn’t have the staff.”
The Local Behavioral Health Collaborative and New Mexico State University are undertaking an analysis, expected to be done this summer, to determine the gaps and needs of the county’s behavioral health infrastructure.
Robert McCord, a Las Cruces police sergeant with the Crisis Intervention Team, said he’s seen firsthand the county doesn’t have enough beds and should invest in a regional mental hospital. He said New Mexico has two times the national average of incarcerated mentally ill people.
“I think what really lacks in southern New Mexico is a mental health infrastructure,” McCord said. “Our prisons and our jails are our mental institutions.”
A recent 90-day survey of the county Detention Center showed more than 50 percent of detainees suffered from a mental illness.
District 3 Commissioner Shannon Reynolds said he was concerned the county was spending money to take care of the mentally ill in a facility that wasn’t meant for rehabilitation and hoped the triage center reduced the population incarcerated.
The county has signed on to the Stepping Up Initiative, which aims to reduce the number of mentally ill people in jail.
Macias said it was unrealistic to expect the mentally ill population in the detention center to drop dramatically, saying most inside have been legally found to be too big a risk to be let out.
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