From the editor: Seeking an improved behavioral health system

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More than four years after Gov. Susana Martinez’s freeze of Medicaid funds threw the state’s behavioral health system into chaos, it has yet to recover. Meanwhile, crisis calls to 911 have spiked in Doña Ana County as law enforcement is increasingly tasked with handling such situations.

Heath Haussamen

Heath Haussamen

Martinez’s Medicaid freeze is one of several hits in recent years for southern New Mexico’s fragile system of care for people suffering from issues like mental illness and addiction. Policymakers are aware of the problems and have taken some steps to help, but progress has been slow. A crisis triage center the county completed in 2013 has sat unused ever since, perhaps the most tangible sign that good intentions haven’t led to the help people need.

So instead, people in crisis too often meet armed law enforcement officers in situations that are dangerous and can be deadly. Police usually do their best, but this isn’t a problem they can solve. The issues run deeper and the solutions must be systemic.

It was with this sad reality in mind that I set out a year ago to put together a team of journalists to investigate southern New Mexico’s struggling behavioral health system, tell the stories of people the system impacts, and explore solutions. Thanks to a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, NMPolitics.net, the Las Cruces Sun-News and KRWG News were able to assemble a team of dedicated journalists to do just that.

Over the course of the last 11 months our team has worked exhaustively to produce this in-depth series, which we are calling “Distressed” — a label that captures the state of our behavioral health system. As the project’s editor, I’ve been immersed in versions of these written articles and videos. I’ve felt angry. Sometimes I’ve wept. I learned a lot and felt motivated to act. I hope you do too.

If you’re looking for guidance on how to navigate this series, let me suggest an order to read these articles. The first two focus on law enforcement:

The next two focus on health care:

If you want more, you can check out these TV interviews:

Please take time to read and watch these important stories. And then let’s come together as a community to build better systems. The way things are now is unacceptable. But we can improve. We must.

Heath Haussamen
Editor and publisher, NMPolitics.net
Project editor, southern New Mexico behavioral health series “Distressed”

Click here to go back to the “Distressed” series homepage.

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