County Explores Idea Of Triage Center To Address Behavioral Health

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Wayne Johnson wants to be proactive in improving behavioral health services and helping more people in Sandoval and Bernalillo counties avoid jail cell.

Wayne johnson

This is why the Sandoval County Director is exploring the idea of ​​putting “programmatic type dollars” towards a mental health triage center.

He said a triage center would be ideal for helping people in crisis, whether medical and / or behavioral, adding that such a facility would be an alternative to jail when an individual comes into contact with the forces. order while displaying signs of distress or mental health. crisis. It would also be open to the general public.

He said the models in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz. Involved a walk-in service where employees can monitor people for 23 hours, medically stabilize them and work with them one-on-one.

“We don’t have anywhere in New Mexico that does that. I think that’s the key to really having a successful behavioral health program and identifying those issues, ”Johnson said, adding that people with behavioral health issues may have arrest records as a result. “They figure out what your problem may be. Sometimes it’s medical. In some cases, they would go to the centers and take a break from behavioral health because of their medications, such as diabetes medications.

Johnson has said he hopes Sandoval County can partner with Bernalillo County on such a center and make it a regional effort.

He also said that Bernalillo County is a prime example of what can happen if Sandoval County does not start planning for the “beginnings” of such a program, addressing issues that lead to criminal behavior. .

The county commission unanimously approved two resolutions on Nov. 18 to address behavioral health and reduce repetitive criminal behavior, which Johnson says is part of a larger package for the next legislative session.

He said the state expected an additional $ 2 billion in new revenue.

“We don’t have a strong program here in Sandoval County yet, but these dollars would help become a reality,” Johnson said. “We have our problems, and we have to solve them and be prepared to look a little further into the future than we are now.”

The present situation

Johnson said the Albuquerque Metropolitan Detention Center is the state’s largest behavioral health center, which means if the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office finds someone in crisis, it ends up having it. take him to the MDC, even if that person has committed no crime.

“What do you do with someone like that standing on a street corner and howling at the moon, for lack of a better example?” What has this officer got? Well, (a triage center) is a place they can take this person who’s obviously in crisis and in trouble. Then they can assess them and determine where they need to go to get services, ”he said.

Johnson said a triage center can better determine if a person is having a mental crisis or is extremely distraught, in urgent need of insulin to manage their diabetes, or may be high in opioids.

The goal is simple: tackle the root cause and make it a starting point for getting the right help.

“It kind of covers the full spectrum,” Johnson said.

A proposed coordinated effort

He said the topic should be treated as a regional issue, rather than just within city or county limits.

“I’d rather be one step ahead,” Johnson said.

A regional triage center could help people no matter where in the metro area they lived or found themselves in crisis.

“We live in a metropolitan area. We are several communities which form a whole community together. And if we don’t tackle homelessness and drug addiction, recidivism – they’re all linked to one level or another – from a Sandoval County perspective, we’ll end up going through the same issues, going through the same pain as you see down the hill in Bernalillo County, the city of Albuquerque. It just tends to spread, ”Johnson said. “We would like to find a way to work with our partners, to work with our neighbors, to work with the state to try to have options for the residents of Sandoval County who are in these straits.”

Johnson also said it would pay off to make it a coordinated effort in the metro Albuquerque area.

“We are all dealing with the same people,” he said.

The starting point

Psychologist Stacey Goldstein-Dwyer, president and CEO of GD Psych Services, said a triage center can help deal with a crisis “in the moment.”

“Often times, the crisis will happen late at night, early in the morning, on weekends. This is when people are generally closed and access to care is limited. I think in those situations it’s very helpful that they have a place to go, that we can minimize suicide attempts, ”she said, adding that a triage center can help put that person. in place with the right resources.

For those who are hesitant to make an appointment but need care, Goldstein-Dwyer said a triage center can expand access by making it an informal process.

“It makes it easier with the fact that they have the resources; they can make a warm transfer to a provider, who would then take over their care from there, ”she said. “One thing that is sorely lacking in our community is that connection.”

Goldstein-Dwyer, who previously worked as a director of mental health at a few prisons including the MDC, also said people in need of help “were already doing so much” and that making that phone call to get help can be overwhelming.

She said that if the necessary care and follow-up work is provided to these people in the community, it will reduce possible criminal behavior or the need for the police to take them to jail.

“The problem is, no one should be getting this kind of mental health treatment inside a prison. We should be able to provide it in our communities, which we are lacking, ”she said.

State action?

Johnson said Sandoval County will meet with state lawmakers to brief them on the county’s legislative priorities and monitor progress in the next legislative session. Commissioners and staff will serve as expert witnesses, where appropriate, to help advance those priorities, he said.

He also said it was still unclear whether the state would use behavioral health-related funding in the next session, as that might not be considered relevant for the budget-focused 30-day session of the ‘State.

The 2022 legislative session opens on January 18 and ends on February 17.


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