Behavioral health licensing bill receives unanimous support from House committee

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — 6774719002Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, said she has been looking for ways to improve access to mental and behavioral health in New Mexico ever since she was elected in 2018.

One of the areas she identified during that research was the licensing requirements for providers.

On Feb. 17, a bill she has sponsored to change some of what she described as “out of date” statutes received a unanimous do pass recommendation from the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee. The discussion can be viewed online at nmlegis.gov.

Hochman-Vigil is one of two sponsors of House Bill 125, or Behavioral Health Practitioner Changes. The other sponsor is Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena.

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This is the second committee that has given the bill a do pass recommendation. It previously received a unanimous do pass recommendation from the Health and Human Services Committee.

Some of the changes included in the bill are automatically extending the licenses during a public health emergency and allowing the use of technology like video technology to supervise trainees in the field in lieu of in-person supervision.

Robert Curley, traditional counselor for Totah Behavioral Health Center, talks about using a sweat lodge as part of traditional services at the campus in Farmington. A bill that is intended to improve access to behavioral health services received support from the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Feb. 17.

She said the bill will also make it easier to attract providers from out of state.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, made some amendments during the committee meeting to be more specific about the public health emergency automatic extension. He explained that if there is a public health emergency localized to one community it should not allow an extension of licenses in communities not impacted by the health emergency. 

Nibert gave the example of a hypothetical localized emergency in Roswell and said that should not grant an extension for Albuquerque practitioners that would not be impacted by the emergency.

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That extension would last through the public health emergency and for six months after.

The bill comes as New Mexico looks for ways to address mental and behavioral health following a 2013 shakeup in the industry.

On a local level, San Juan County contracted for a behavioral health gap analysis in 2019 and has since opened a Mental Wellness Resource Center in hopes of meeting some of the needs.

Primary Care Council Act receives unanimous committee support 

The committee also unanimously supported the Primary Care Council Act, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque. This bill creates an unpaid committee to assist the New Mexico Human Services Department in finding ways to expand access to care and lower costs.

“Primary care saves lives by focusing on wellness and diagnosing illnesses sooner,” Armstrong said in a press release. “By bringing together experts to work with the Human Services Department to look at key questions such as funding primary care, recruiting more primary care physicians, and focusing on outcomes, not services, we can save lives and improve quality of life in New Mexico.”

This bill is now headed to the House floor.

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If it becomes law, the council will consist of nine voting members and 13 advisory members. It will provide an annual report to the Interim Health and Human Services Committee making recommendations to improve primary care services. 

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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