[Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a series of articles on the Grant County Commission work session on June 6, 2023 and the regular meeting on June 8, 2023. This one begins with reports and updates at the work session.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The first report at the Grant County Commission work session came from Hidalgo Medical Services Chief Executive Officer Dan Otero, DBA. “In the medical division, we have 15 primary care physicians between Hidalgo and Grant counties. We are still recruiting because we want to get to 21. We have openings at all locations. We also have two contract providers, one in Lordsburg, and by July 1, one at the Mimbres Clinic. We are in the process of replacing the clinic in Mimbres and hope to have it open in November or December. The Animas Clinic will open in July or August. I am happy to announce we have a site director for the residency program, who just got certified. In the best-case scenario, we will take on residents again in summer 2024 or possibly 2025.”
said HMS continues to provide mental health services. “We are changing a lot of our services to telehealth due to the shortage of mental health providers. We have a psychology intern graduating in July. She’s going to Shiprock. We also provide dental services in Lordsburg and here. We need hygienists, but dentists are doing the hygienist tasks, too. Steve Chavira is our Senior Centers director. He is stabilizing the staff at all the senior service centers, which are all open. We have expanded services to deliver meals to Animas and Virden. There will be state funding for it, but we’re not sure how much yet. Things are looking up with providers in some divisions getting better.”
Otero introduced Susie Trujillo, chair of the Tu Casa Advisory Board.
“We meet every other month, and we are looking in depth at the new crisis center,” Trujillo said. “We have two psychiatrists, Dr. Teresa Arizaga and Dr. Bob Garrett on the board. Others serving on the advisory board include Ron Hall, (District 3) Commissioner Alicia Edwards and Detention Center Administrator Joseph Andazola. We also have psychologist Ron Harley and Christina Wolford, and Dr. Don Stevens, family medicine. We have a fantastic board, and they are very dedicated.”
Trujillo said Tu Casa got some state funding. “When we were working on Tu Casa, we knew we needed residential treatment. The state decided we didn’t need it because there were three treatment centers in the state including Yucca Lodge out at Fort Bayard. We wanted to make sure we had residential treatment, but we didn’t include it and decided to support Yucca Loge. Only 6-9 months later, the state closed Yucca Lodge, and said they would put it somewhere else, but I don’t think they ever did.”
She explained that the crisis triage system offers 23 hours of care. They get treated, then triaged out into the 14-day stabilization phase. The providers plan the stabilization. “We are excited to have funding for this service. The state is always confused, but we are very lucky to have people to do this crisis center. Guess which county had the most calls to the 988 (mental crisis phone line)? Yes, Grant County. It means we need to work ever harder. The state hasn’t figured out the rates yet. We need these services. The hospital is on board with us to provide them. No one is a better partner than HMS.”
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked if the number of calls were on a per capita basis, “meaning we finished above Bernalillo County?”
“Yes,” Trujillo said. “When the lady from the state did the 988 presentation, she came and did it for us. It’s nice to have you guys on our side.”
Dr. Teresa Arizaga, HMS chief mental health officer, presented specific numbers of clients seen at Tu Casa. “We had 484 appointments in June, with 448 unique patients. Over the past 12 months, we had 6, 33 appointments with 741 unique clients. We had 675 for MAT (medical assisted treatment), with 141 unique clients. These are big numbers that continue to grow. The services we provide include mental health assessments, substance abuse assessments, peer support and MAT support. We provide crisis intervention during work hours. We have applied for a federal grant to create a CCBHC (certified community behavioral health clinic). It would provide mobile and 24-hour services. We cover the spectrum. We have walk-ins, as well as appointments. When we have the 24/7 service, it will be a crisis triage center. When we started Tu Casa, a crisis triage center wasn’t sustainable. We want to have providers on call, so when we have the mobile service, it can help stabilize someone in crisis. We want a community calming center, and 14-day residential treatment.”
Trujillo said the board along with HMS has three goals: the reduction of law enforcement encounters, the reduction of emergency room visits and reduction of detention center encounters.
Otero noted that the services at Tu Casa right now are voluntary on the part of the clients. “When we have the 23-hour and 14-day treatment, people can be brought in involuntarily.”
Under county reports, Andazola presented his report first. “We currently have three new officers in training and three pending. We have one officer opening. We will begin looking at retention strategies. The officers voted for supervisor of the year and officer of the year. Congratulations to Sgt. Gnader of being awarded supervisor of the year and Cp. Rivera for receiving officer of the year. They are always willing to help. I sent Sgt. Gnader to the El Paso SRT (special reaction team) school. He was one of eight to pass the SWAT (special weapons and tactics team) school. Officer Dylan Rivera started in 2021 and he has been promoted to Corporal.”
Andazola reported when they had a Covid outbreak at the jail, “there were six of us running the jail. Rivera stuck by me with graveyard services. He had only been on the job 5 days, and is only 21 years old, but he’s already a leader.”
He noted that the jail had 71 detainees on May 31, with the average daily population for May at 76. “In May 2023, we had 20 RISE participants with seven in the facility and 13 in the community.”
For future projects, he said the presumptive eligibility position had posted that week. He got several applicants when it was posted internally, and the contract for NMPCC (New Mexico Primary Care Council) was submitted. The body scanner policy and procedures have been completed. “The state wants to meet with us on the policy and we’ve already done the training. We submitted the inspection and are awaiting verification. Roadrunner Medical Services has scheduled an accreditation audit in July. They took over in April. They’ve had a tough time with staffing. We filled the corporal position, but we have two sergeant spots open. Sgt. Gnader will be going to PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) investigator training later this month, and I’ll be attending the New Mexico Counties Summer Conference June 13-16. The affiliate is working on a MAT program for jails. I continue working, moving forward on the 5-year plan.”
District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce noted that the job fairs have paid off, with only one opening at this time.
“Yes, the fairs and the job postings are working,” Andazola said. “I think the community is hearing about our big improvements at the Detention Center. It’s a great beginning job, because we deal with the courts, social workers and law enforcement. I thank the county for helping us with the fairs.”
“I really appreciate your hard work,” Ponce said.
Browne asked if staffing was making the difference with the numbers of inmates. “You are averaging in the 70s. For years, we were in the 80s and 90s. Does pre-trial affect the numbers?”
Andazola said the various programs, including RISE, pre-trial and MAT are making a difference. “We still need staff. The state has a formula, and we are somewhat understaffed. It’s adequate staffing, but we could use more. Most jails are understaffed. Even with all the programs, we need enough staff. With fentanyl and other drug issues, we have to watch 24 hours. That’s why we are developing an SRT team, with one on each shift. I am bringing a friend here to serve until he retires. He has spent 30 years in state corrections, so he is bringing his knowledge and expertise. “
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings thanked Andazola, and “I recognize you for your service. I have seen real change under your leadership. We owe you a great deal of gratitude.”
Andazola said: “I think we’re like a family. We also want a disaster plan in place, so we get better and better over the years.”
The next report was due to come from the Planning Director, but he was in another meeting, so could not attend. County Manager Charlene Webb listed the projects, which included the task order in progress for the preliminary/final design of Arenas Valley Road to be paid for through Colonias; the Bataan Veterans Memorial Park walking path design task order in progress; the pending easement agreement and ready to proceed with Fleming Tank Road improvements, paid for by NM Department of Transportation; Phase 1 of Little Walnut Road construction with bids received and the award recommended to be paid for by Colonias; near completion of the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan, while preparing police and management recommendations; construction on Truck Bypass Road, with bids received and award recommended; and the old Detention Center brownfields project anticipated for sub-grant agreement by July for the county and New Mexico Environment Department to begin the clean up phase.
She noted that the county received all three Colonias awards applied for – North Hurley phase 3, Crum and Franks roads. “We will put the Hamilton Bridge project on the ICIP (infrastructure capital improvement plan).”
Ponce asked if the county has ever done news releases and ads in the newspapers on these awards of funding. “I would like for the public to know that we received funding to work on Franks and Crum roads.”
Browne said he was glad to see the brownfields project going forward. He noted that Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Government executive director, had said at the latest Grant County Water Commission meeting that Colonias awards had gone up, “which was good news.”
The next report will come from General Services Director Randy Villa.