Reader View: Here’s to meaningful behavioral health reform

Posted: Monday, June 20, 2016 7:00 pm

I have been doing a lot of thinking on why I think New Mexico missed out on an opportunity for meaningful mental health care reform after agencies came under investigation for potential fraud, causing Medicaid dollars to be frozen.

I worked with an employee of La Frontera here in Tucson, Ariz., recently, and the thoughts came together. La Frontera, as most people know, was recruited to go to Las Cruces during the so-called “mental health shake-up,” and the bad rap they got when they were there has been very personal for the dedicated employees they have here in Tucson.

I worked recently at La Frontera’s 16-bed inpatient facility in Tucson, which, by the way, was well-staffed, and I found the staff to be caring and competent. In conversation about me returning to Tucson from Las Cruces, a nurse who has been a La Frontera employee for 20 years, said: “Wow, that is some corrupt state, right? I never could understand why La Frontera went over there — they were there to help them and ended up losing … money. I heard the political system is totally corrupt.” This was without me even mentioning the mental health debacle. This was not the first time I had negative feedback about New Mexico.

Why do I think New Mexico missed a golden opportunity for reform?

  • The New Mexico chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness should have taken a neutral stance. It could have been a powerful vehicle to demand of politicians and press for answers and be in the advocacy role for the mentally ill.
  • Democratic politicians who claim to be advocates turned the situation into “us against Gov. Susana Martinez.” Motives were obviously for personal gain and not for the good of the mental health community. I say this partly because many of them were in office before the agencies started to go down, and the mental heath services were in a sorry state then. I had a family member that I pulled out of services.
  • The press appeared biased, at least in the southern part of the state. If not biased, they did not do hard investigations and seemed to be taking sides. I read the original report about the findings after the audit, and there are many red flags about the organizations under investigation that were never pursued. Though the final results of the investigation “cleared” agencies of fraud, it would not take a rocket scientist to read the results and come up with “a whole lot of money appears to be mismanaged and unaccounted for.”

Now people are scratching their heads and waiting for the results of a lawsuit pursued by La Frontera and the remote possibility of an investigation by the Justice Department. But the tide won’t turn without oversight and people demanding it.

The way this was handled by all entities involved has put New Mexico in a bad light, nationally and with your next-door neighbor over here, Arizona. And again, it is the mentally ill with limited options who take the final rap for it.

Pamela Field is a psychiatric nurse and former Nami-Dac president who lives in Tucson, Ariz.


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