Report faults New Mexico on mental-health services

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has done a poor job of providing mental-health and substance-abuse services for needy New Mexicans despite repeatedly overhauling government programs during the past two decades, according to a legislative report released Wednesday.

The state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on behavioral health services, but it continues to have among the nation's highest rates of suicide as well as deaths from alcohol and drug overdoses, the Legislative Finance Committee report said.

About two in 10 New Mexicans suffer from mental illness, and one in 10 residents have substance-abuse problems.

"It's extremely frustrating to me not just as a legislative member but as a citizen of the state when we end up with virtually no results," said Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and committee vice chairman.

Committee staff, which prepared the report, said there have been four overhauls during the last 20 years of the state's system for delivering mental-health services and substance-abuse treatment.

The most recent came earlier this year when Gov. Susana Martinez's administration revamped Medicaid, including having managed-care companies take over providing behavioral health services for lower-income New Mexicans. That's a shift from a decade ago when the state formed a separate system for behavioral health, which was overseen by an interagency group.

Human Services Deputy Secretary Brent Earnest said the Medicaid change was made to improve the integration of medical care and behavioral health services for individuals. He also pointed out the administration has expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income adults.

"We are putting this on a more solid foundation and ... we should be making more progress in the coming years," Earnest said.

But Smith said previous administrations — Democratic and Republican — have made similar promises for improvements and yet there has been no progress in reducing mental-health and substance-abuse problems plaguing the state.

"That's a terrible indictment for our state. It's a terrible indictment for the Legislature, and it's a terrible indictment for the executive branch when we start looking at this," Smith said.

The state expects to spend about $538 million for behavioral health services in the current budget year, with about $209 million of that for adults. The remainder of spending is on programs for children.

The report said, "The state does not have a comprehensive grasp on how its spends the estimated $209 million on adult behavioral health; whether it's funding effective services, whether services are located in high-need areas, or whether services are producing expected results." the Legislative Finance Committee report concluded.

The report estimated that only 11 percent of state spending on behavioral health services for adults is on programs that have been proven effective based on research.

Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier told lawmakers there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of people receiving behavioral-health services in the last budget year, which ended in June.

A record number of people were served — 114,314 last year, compared with 87,373 a year earlier.

The department attributed the increase to several factors, including the overhaul and expansion of Medicaid as well as improving the delivery of behavioral health services.

The increase came during a time when the administration faced criticism from legislators and social-services advocates for halting Medicaid payments to more than a dozen mental-health and substance-abuse providers because of allegations of fraud, overbillings and mismanagement.

Critics contended the move disrupted programs for the needy. The attorney general's office continues to investigate allegations against most of the providers, although two have been cleared of fraud.


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