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Nicholas Addison Thomas

Director of Content Marketing, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Innovating at Scale in Bernalillo County

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When it comes to advancing behavioral health care, innovation is a key ingredient. Just ask Bernalillo County’s Department of Behavioral Health Services, the newest recipient of our Innovation at Work Award through our Awards of Excellence program. In this spotlight, Margarita Chavez-Sanchez, director of the department, highlights the important role innovation plays in community growth.

What does this award mean to you/your organization?

“Since the Behavioral Health Initiative launched in 2015, we’ve eagerly pursued innovative programming for our community. Having our efforts recognized validates the countless volunteer hours, our dedicated team and the challenges we have overcome. It is an honor to receive this award, and it reflects what can happen when a community unites with a shared goal.”

How is your organization innovating to help people with behavioral health care needs thrive?

“We have scoured the globe for innovative programs with proven successes. We also use a problem-based procurement method, capitalizing on the research and insights of providers in our community. Once we have designed the programs, we customize them to fit the unique variables of our community.

“A great example of this is our Reduction in Adverse Childhood Experiences Programs, through which we are funding seven different providers to address a slightly different population in slightly different ways. This will give us the opportunity to have services available to meet the needs of a diverse population with varying needs. While these programs are still in infancy stages, we are already seeing results, such as increased family reunification and access to services.”

How has the National Council helped you make a mark in your community?

“The National Council is a valuable tool for us as a department and as a team. The department has multiple Mental Health First Aid Instructors and continues to facilitate courses both internally and for the community on a regular basis. We have greatly benefited from communicated information and attending conferences to learn about the work other organizations are doing, and we are honored to receive this recognition from the National Council. It is our hope that the pioneering work we are doing in Bernalillo County will help guide the efforts of neighboring communities and states as they navigate how to address and serve those living with a behavioral health condition.”

How important is community input throughout the behavioral health care process?

“The Behavioral Health Initiative was created due to community input; really, an outcry of need from individuals and families living with a behavioral health condition and a lack of resources. From the start, our county commissioners instructed us to heavily involve those within our community who have lived experience. To date, more than 80 community members have volunteered on our committees and have given more than 100 hours of their time toward helping us create the 23 new and meaningful behavioral health programs. That’s the power of community!”

Have any lessons learned, best practices or tips you’d like to share with your peers?

“The process of building a regional behavioral health system has been quite the undertaking, and we have learned so much. Managing expectations, for example. Many entities within Bernalillo County latched onto the concept of a Crisis Resource Center. It was as though some thought it was a ‘silver bullet’ and the best solution for addressing behavioral health.

“While we agreed that it is a much-needed piece of the system, we knew we first needed to change laws, create reimbursement options, physically find a suitable space and create step-down programs. We’ve since launched the first phase of our version of a Crisis Triage Center, but we remain vigilantly dedicated to educating the community about all the programs that are needed to fill the gaps and create a continuum of care.”

In the past five years, the Behavioral Health Initiative has launched 23 programs, infused $20 million into the behavioral health industry by partnering with service providers, committed more than $70 million to behavioral health projects and helped more than 50,000 people. Learn more.