Panel: County lacks mental health professionals

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — Representatives of half a dozen local organizations say there are not enough behavioral health care professionals to meet the demand in San Juan County.

San Juan County

A panel of representatives from the San Juan County juvenile justice system, Childhaven, Cottonwood Clinical Services, Presbyterian Medical Services and the San Juan Regional Medical Center spoke about access to behavioral health and substance abuse service today during a Legislative Health and Human Services Committee meeting at San Juan College.

The committee members will use the information they have gathered through meetings across the state to draft legislation. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, warned the current budget deficit could lead to funding problems.

“This is the worst crisis, probably, since the Great Depression for the state budget,” he said.

Presbyterian Medical Services in Farmington has 15 vacant behavioral health positions, according to Laura Ann Crawford, the northwest region director. She said she has spent three months trying to recruit people to fill those positions.

Without doctors and therapists to see the patients, local providers reported people are waiting three weeks to five months before they can get an appointment.

"Five weeks is a long time for somebody suffering from addiction or in a mental health crisis," Kim DuTremaine, the CEO of Cottonwood Clinical Services, said. She said patients at the Farmington-based clinic wait three to five weeks for appointments.

In an effort to deal with those extended waits, San Juan Regional Medical Center contracted with a part-time psychiatrist who works with children through teleconferences, said Dr. Julie Young, a psychiatrist at the hospital. She said the service is expensive, and many children do not like speaking to a monitor.

Even a master's degree program in social work offered by New Mexico Highlands University, which has a campus in Farmington, is not providing the needed therapists, the panel of representatives said. Once students complete the master's degree, they can take a test to become a licensed therapist. The panelists said the graduates are not taking the test to become licensed therapists.

DuTremaine said she worked as an adjunct professor for the program, and the students were not prepared for her classes. She said some of them were not able to write term papers.

In addition to a lack of behavioral health professionals, Young said the county needs more addiction treatment programs.

The county has not had a medical detox center since the Four Winds Recovery Center closed its 12-bed program in March. A sobering center that opened through a partnership between PMS, the San Juan Regional Medical Center, the city of Farmington and San Juan County has aimed to fill some of the resulting gap. The sobering center provides a place for people to stay for 11 hours.

“I think that our community has gotten behind some of our needs and answered the call quite well,” Crawford said.

The San Juan Regional Medical Center transports patients from the sobering center to the hospital when they are showing symptoms of needing detox care.

However, DuTremaine said there is a gap in services due to the lack of a medical detox center. She said she had a client come to her clinic from the hospital who had a blood alcohol content level of 0.24.

“My feeling is that shift from the detox service that we had to the sobering center has left a gap,” she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.