Behavioral health provider: ‘I just hope that we’ve learned from history’

By: - September 8, 2021 4:37 pm

Providers are asking New Mexico lawmakers to rebuild the state’s behavioral health care system, which is still plagued by problems after former Gov. Susana Martinez caused many providers to shut down about eight years ago.  

Lawrence Medina, executive director of the Rio Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program in Taos, N.M., suggested lawmakers provide funding needed to open more in-patient treatment centers in New Mexico for substance use and mental health. 

“One of the things we’ve seen is the need for improving and increasing funding for residential treatment centers around the state,” Medina told a panel of lawmakers last week “Detox, residential and sober living would, you know, be less expensive than the large amount of people that are being incarcerated, and that’s the revolving door that needs to be addressed.”

Many residential services were lost after ex-Gov. Martinez accused 15 service providers of fraud and stopped their Medicaid payments in 2013. Many were forced to close and services were disrupted across the state, even though none of the fraud allegations held up in the end.   

We’re not having post-traumatic stress. We're still living in trauma based on the losses that we had as a result of that shakeup, and we're still picking up the pieces. I just hope that we've learned from history, you know, that we don't repeat that. Because at the end of the day, it's the people, the gente, that pay the ultimate price of this shakeup.

– Lawrence Medina, executive director of the Rio Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program

In an official survey, employees of the New Mexico Behavioral Health Provider Association asked lawmakers to support rebuilding the state’s behavioral health systems and provide “better support for higher levels of care in rural areas, such as detox and residential centers.”

Maggie McGowen, the executive director of the association, told lawmakers that behavioral health providers have challenges recruiting and retaining staff, meeting the demand for care, and maintaining staff morale.

She suggested lawmakers provide state funding to pay for salary increases, unpaid administrative costs, internship programming and supervision costs.

She also asked them for $250,000 to create a behavioral health analytics plan, which would include recurring data collection and analysis that would help providers deliver better care and health outcomes for patients.

Medina said there are limited services for people experiencing mental health crises, and this contributes to a revolving door between the state’s jails and hospitals.

“It’s time to accept the science that substance use disorder is a disease and not a moral or a motivational failure,” Medina said. “It’s time to realize we are fighting another pandemic, it is time to close the gaps in the recovery options and level the playing field. It’s time to realize we are all in this together.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.