Sunday, August 23, 2015

Urgently Needed: Mental Health Faciity

A few years ago during a radio discussion of mental health, we realized that each of us (two hosts and three guests) had a close relative with a serious mental health problem. Most readers can likely say the same.

So why can't we face the problem of mental health and deal with it?

Sure, the State's dubious decision to close mental-health facilities in southern New Mexico exacerbated the problem. (Contacting a potential replacement from Arizona even before receiving a report that appears to have vastly exaggerated the presence of fraud, then closing the facilities, was a terrible move, worthy of investigation, but that isn't my point here.) La Clinica Familia is stepping in, and deserves all our help and support.

Sure, local hospitals try to duck the problem; but that's not the issue either. Nor is the plan for a new hospital to skim off the profitable cream (cardiac and orthopedic problems) and steer clear of the messy mental-health problem.

We and our local governments must tackle this problem realistically but creatively.

I talked this week with a fellow who's pushing for just that. Jack Eakman (pronounced “Eckman”). After a successful business career working for a health-care provider, Jack retired here because he liked Cruces better than anywhere else he'd been.

But Eakman's seen “a lot of activities caused by behavioral health symptoms” such as child and spousal abuse, domestic battery, DWI's and addictions. These appear disproportionately frequent for the population here.

Unlike most of us, he's been doing something about it – as his health-care career had equipped him to do.

He says we should analyze the size and nature of the problem here, available resources, estimated annual operating costs and revenues, and other factors a mental-health care provider would want to know before deciding to open a facility here. Financial viability is important, but “it has to be about the mission.”

Jack is guardedly optimistic that the problem can be solved; but it won't be easy. The proposal must be “innovative,” both to gain the support of the State and to appeal to a capable provider. But although he calls it “outrageous” that we've not only had inadequate services but have been “sending profits out of state to investors that could be used here to improve access and services and reduce costs,” as Jack looks forward he's optimistic that the State would support a creative proposal.

Eakman says Cruces should be an attractive place for a provider to hire or relocate hundreds of professionals. He cites our quality of life and low cost of living; the university; cultural and recreational opportunities; and a major airport nearby.

He's also “a fan” of La Clinica, noting that they've been assembling an experienced team even without yet having additional resources. In particular, he likes “their openness in the way they confer with another professional, and discuss the things they're doing, how they're seeking solutions, and where they see challenges. There's a complete absence of drama. They're succinct and clear about how they're going to go about things.”

But the County and City must take charge. We need to attract a mental hospital facility. Emergency rooms lack the training – and the commitment to this particular service. “Acute mental health is ugly, and no one wants to deal with it,” Jack says.

Though I often think we have too many consultants, we'll need one for this. Someone who can help craft a truly strong proposal. Someone who knows providers' needs, speaks their language, and has industry contacts.

Jack will keep pushing. “I'm not giving up until this gets a solution. I'm not going away,” he told me. Good!
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 August, and will appear later today on KRWG-TV's website as well.]
[A particular aspect of the problem discussed in the column is the relationship between mental-health care and the judiciary -- and prisons.  Those who pause for thought at the cost of trying to address the mental-health problem should acknowledge how much we're already spending to feed and house mentally-troubled people in our jails and deal with them in our courts.  Jails don't generally solve mental-health problems, so we're also dealing with whatever problems the same folks create when they're released.   Some subset of those folks, if diagnosed properly and treated in the first place, might not end up in jail.   We're something like the family that keeps putting more and more buckets around the house to catch rainwater because fixing the roof costs money -- but we're going broke buying buckets and spending half our time placing them in all the right places and emptying them.]
[I enjoyed talking with Jack.  He's straightforward and thoughtful.  And brings to this issue the kind of business savvy most of us couldn't.]

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