Mental Health Crisis Triage Center

Crisis Triage Center

By Diana Alba Soular/
Posted:   07/12/2012 05:51:23 PM MDT

LAS CRUCES — Officials on Thursday marked the start of construction on a $2 million facility — the first of its kind in New Mexico — meant to help Doña Ana County’s mentally ill residents stay out of jail.

They touted the Doña Ana County Crisis Triage Center as a link that’s always been missing in the county’s dealings with the mentally ill —who’ve often been routed, improperly, to jail in the past, for lack of a better option.

The center not only will be a place to take mentally ill residents when they’re in crisis mode, but also it will provide a place for them to access therapy, said Grace Philips, attorney with the New Mexico Association of Counties. The group insures Doña Ana County government.

“I know there are people who’ve held this vision in their hearts for many months and many years,” said Philips, addressing a crowd of about 100 attendees at a groundbreaking ceremony.

County Commission Chairwoman Karen Perez and Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima were among a slate of public officials who turned shovels of dirt to ceremonially mark the start of construction.

The 5,800-square-foot building, located on the southeast corner of the county jail’s campus, is expected to be finished around February or March of 2013, according to county officials.

Once done, it will be staffed with mental health professionals.

Changes coming

Until now, police who take someone into protective custody —for instance,if the person is threatening suicide —can take the person Memorial Medical Center to await a psychiatric evaluation or cite the person with a minor offense and take them to jail. Authorities said the former option can take six to eight hours at times, making it impractical to police.

With the crisis triage center, police can drop the person off for a maximum 24-hour stay in which he or she will receive a mental evaluation, said Ron Gurley, a long-time mental health advocate in Las Cruces. And afterward, personnel will follow up with the person to connect them to the right resources, such as counseling, to reach long-term stability, he said.

“We’ll have triage officers that will help them navigate back into the community,” he said.

The center will help stop the unnecessary “criminalization” of the mentally ill, Gurley said.

Ron Gurley’s wife, Nicole Gurley, told attendees that the idea for the center had its genesis 13 years ago. She said she was discouraged at times because funding requests for the center were repeatedly denied. Money cleared the Legislature at least three times in the past, only to be vetoed by former Gov. Bill Richardson.

The county commission decided last year to fund the construction of the building itself, to the relief of many in the mental health advocacy community.

Philips said a study looking at the dynamics of county jails and the mentally ill across the state is nearing completion. That has determined about 36 percent of inmates at the Doña Ana County Detention Center receive mental health-care services, she said.

A state advisory panel has recommended that crisis triage centers be developed in New Mexico, and Doña Ana County is the first to build one, Philips said.

“You’re also breaking ground in a much larger sense,” she told the audience.

According to a 2011 report from the advisory panel, police in New Mexico can take people into temporary custody for a mental evaluation —different from a criminal arrest —under these circumstances:

  • someone is otherwise eligible to be arrested for a crime;
  • someone is suicidal; or,
  • authorities believe, because of mental illness, the person is likely to harm themselves or others and detaining him or her would prevent it.

County officials said a challenge remains in finding operational funding for the center.

Updated:   07/13/2012 09:26:53 AM MDT

Sun News

LAS CRUCES (AP) — Construction has begun on a $2 million facility in southern New Mexico that’s meant to keep mentally ill residents out of jail.

Officials say the Dona Ana County Crises Triage Center is a better option for such residents who often have been improperly routed to jail.

The 5,800-square-foot building is expected to be complete next February or March. About 100 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that the county commission is funding the project after officials unsuccessfully sought money from the state.

Grace Philips is an attorney for the New Mexico Association of Counties. She cited a study in saying about 36 percent of inmates at the Dona Ana County Detention Center receive mental health care services.


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