This election season, I've been working on two important ballot questions one one whether we should impose a tiny tax increase here in Alb. to provide long-sought mental health programs, and another on decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. Here's an Op Ed I wrote for the Alb. Journal on the mental health issue last week. When you go out to vote in the next few weeks, don't forget these two issues at the bottom on the ballot!
From the Alb. Journal Oct. 9, 2014
Evidence keeps mounting that the lack of mental health treatment facilities here in Bernalillo County has tragic consequences for children, families, taxpayers and for the community’s image as a safe place to live and do business. The news surrounding the shooting of James Boyd and the Justice Department’s finding that the Albuquerque police are inadequately trained to handle people with mental illness just keeps on coming. And it is not good.
For the past 14 years, there have been countless memorials, task forces and studies commissioned by Bernalillo County and the New Mexico Legislature that all say the same thing: Our stopgap system of treating mentally ill people in crisis through emergency room admissions, incarceration and overmedication is not working. I have been involved in many of these efforts.
Most recently the city-county Task Force on Behavioral Health has recommended what prior task forces have recommended: a centralized crisis stabilization center where people in crisis could be taken to talk to mental health professionals to reduce acute stress. A center like this is far preferable to an already overcrowded detention facility or a hospital emergency room.
Most often these facilities re-traumatize people with mental illness, and increase the possibility of a violent confrontation further down the circular path. Meanwhile the taxpayer’s bill is mounting. And jails and emergency rooms are not cheap.
Yet while policy makers, law enforcement officials and other have long known that we need a crisis triage center and follow-up treatment, they have not come forward with the funding to adequately address this problem.
The result is the broken system that creates violent confrontations between the police and homeless mentally ill men like James Boyd. The longstanding situation has disheartened the huge number people with treatable mental illnesses (estimated in two out of every 10).
In addition, it literally strikes fear into the hearts of families who just don’t know what to do – or where to send their son or daughter – when things get terribly out of control.
Now members of the public have a chance to weigh in on this problem and let elected officials know that this is a problem with a solution that has been vetted and must be funded.
In Bernalillo County on Nov. 4, citizens can vote “YES” in support of a 1/8 percent gross receipts tax advisory question (regarding) needed mental health programs in Bernalillo County – programs like the one the Albuquerque Journal in its Oct. 1 editorial urged the Task Force to pursue: a mental health crisis center. Although the measure would not become law upon its passage it would give County Commissioners a push to pass an ordinance which could generate approximately $19 million for mental health services we desperately need.
As a member of the advisory committee to support passage of this advisory question, I encourage you to learn more at www.YesForMentalHealthSolutions.com.