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The KUNM news team's coverage of the 2020 legislative session and its impacts

Lawmakers Tackle Restoring Behavioral Health Care Years After Shakeup

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May Ortega / KUNM
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State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, who chairs the Legislature's interim Health and Human Services committee

Even before former Gov. Susana Martinez kicked the legs out from under behavioral health care system six years ago, services in the state were inadequate. Lawmakers met on Thursday, July 25, and wrestled with questions about what a good system should look like and what to do next.

People in New Mexico are today suffering some of the highest rates in the U.S. of mental health concerns, substance abuse problems, suicide and trauma. And outside bigger cities, it can still seem nearly impossible to get care. That’s put pressure on legislators on the Health and Human Services committee, tasked with helping to restore or create anew a behavioral health care system.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino said there was a cheaper system that worked better here decades ago. "Back in the ’80s, I think we had a better behavioral health system than we do now," he said. "We had a system that had a master plan behind it, and the master plan was regional community mental health centers. And they could then exercise incredible flexibility and creativity."

Experts testifying before the committee said the solution isn’t necessarily more inpatient beds. People today are being hospitalized because there aren’t other intermediate care options in the state, they said, and this creates hardship in rural areas, where outpatient treatment may be more suitable. 

Overall, early ideas seem to differ about what a system could look like. But lawmakers said they can’t let another year go by without a fix.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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