State hospital needed for southern New Mexico

By Pamela Field / For the Sun-News
Posted:   07/19/2012 01:00:00 AM MDT

Imagine being in a sheriff’s car, handcuffed, driving the backroads through Carrizozo, at record speed with one bathroom break to Las Vegas, New Mexico. At the same time, imagine the possibility of a voice or voices saying,”You’re going to be killed,” or “You’re evil.”That was the plight of several court-committed mentally ill people making a total of 600 committments from Las Cruces last year, to the Behavioral Health Institute (state hospital) in Las Vegas. Not all were from Las Cruces, but managed to be here and become ill enough to be court-committed at either Memorial or Mesilla Valley Hospital on a Friday morning and transferred a couple days later to the state hospital.

Seriously mentally ill people often require court commitments when unable to make informed consent for treatment. They may also have a treatment guardian appointed by the judge who acts on their behalf regarding medication decisions.

Some people disagree with the need for court commitment, especially out-patient ones, and that could be the subject for another article. It’s obvious to me when the brain is not functioning as it should, making a responsible, informed decision is not an option.

A mother, anxious to see her son, recently asked me to accompany her to Las Vegas. While driving there another mother on her way to the hospital called me and I was reminded of the difficulties for families to stay in touch with their loved ones, if not because of the gas prices alone.

While there, I was able to speak to Lisa Lujan, director of inpatient services; and Dr. Djillali Boudjecak, chief of psychiatry, who so graciously gave me an hour and a half of their time. “We are not about insurance here,” said Lujan who went on to describe the services provided by the hospital. The hospital is licensed for 121 beds and is using 86. It has 165 nursing home beds with plans for more, and 18 beds for adolescent sex offenders. And, the forsenic unit has 86 beds, because as Dr. Boudjecak said “We deal with the most difficult and complicated patients.”

What follows is extensive evaluations by a team of doctors. The hospital has trained psychiatric techs, who as Lujan says,”are the heart and soul of our hospital.” This is partly because the town grew around it and generations of families have been employed there. As a result Las Vegas in general is accepting of mentally ill people. This is demonstrated by the systematized care provided in the community.

Community Based Systems,(CBS) is operated by the state and provides case management, psychosocial rehabilitation, med management, counseling and other axillary services. CBS is tightly connected to several of the boarding homes in the area. This, in turn provides a swift response to someone, who may require psychiatric intervention.

What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is we need a state hospital in the southern part of the state. Mental health advocate Ron Gurley has been saying this for years.

Prominent Las Cruces psychiatrist Ernest Flores said “I agree,” when this was discussed at a community forum last February. Flores also added, “Mesilla Valley Hospital has been saying that for years.”

I have heard comments like “This is a pipe dream” or “It will never happen here.” At a recent NAMI meeting, a consumer of mental health services asked “What can we do as consumers to start a movement to get a state hospital here?”

To which I replied talking … to other consumers, doctors, politicians such as Govenor Susanna Martinez.

NAMI-DAC is proud to say we will be starting a consumer peer support group. The group will be called Connections and information will soon be available at our website, nami-dac.org.

In the meantime we are going to keep talking and keep talking….

Can you hear us Governor Martinez?

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