UNM Center for Development and Disability
By Michael Haederle

Prime Partnership

UNM Center for Development & Disability Joins with N.M. Department of Health to Enhance Behavioral Health Care for Children

The University of New Mexico Center for Development and Disability (CDD) is partnering with the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) in a federally funded initiative to help the state’s pediatric primary care providers to better diagnose and treat behavioral and mental health issues in children.

The five-year $2.5 million New Mexico Access to Behavioral Health Care (NM-ABC) initiative will make use of UNM’s Project ECHO tele-mentoring capability to enhance the skills of pediatric primary care providers, said CDD director Marcia Moriarta, PsyD. The project will also offer providers the ability to consult with UNM behavioral health experts and create a directory of resources.


Marcia Moriarta, PsyD

It brings together training and consultation for primary care providers to better support the behavioral and mental health needs of kids that they see in their practices.

β€” Marcia Moriarta, PsyD

“The idea is that it brings together training and consultation for primary care providers to better support the behavioral and mental health needs of kids that they see in their practices,” said Moriarta, who serves as a co-principal investigator on the grant.

The project is funded through DOH by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), said co-principal investigator Susan Chacon, MSW, LCSW, director of Children’s Medical Services for the DOH Title V Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs Program.

The HRSA funding is being distributed to a national network of 40 states under the American Rescue Plan Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program.

“It’s pretty exciting, because it’s rebuilding and shoring up the infrastructure for pediatric behavioral health,” Chacon said, citing the Surgeon General’s recent warning about child mental health in the U.S. “There’s a crisis out there and we’re trying to do something to help.”

To gauge the need for training, the partners are reaching out to pediatricians, family physicians, federally qualified health care clinics, managed care organizations, school nurses and others providing health care to children, she said.

A key part of project involves organizing interactive tele-ECHO sessions with groups of providers from around the state, Moriarta said.

An interdisciplinary team of experts from the UNM Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Pediatrics will provide detailed information about diagnosing children with conditions like anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, trauma, autism spectrum disorder and suicidality. The sessions will also include a discussion regarding the best treatment alternatives.

In addition to well-known mental and behavioral health challenges children face, “the other thing that’s coming up is kids’ response to COVID – it’s a whole new dimension,” Moriarta said.

Participants in the NM-ABC initiative will also be able to consult with UNM experts in child and adolescent behavioral health regarding their patients’ diagnoses and help them access needed resources. “They can call UNM and get active support,” Moriarta said.

The project will also hire a training resource expert, she said. “We’re going to be developing a resource hub online.”

UNM participants in the project include psychiatrists Amy Rouse, MD, and Caroline Bonham, MD, psychologists Sylvia Acosta, PhD, and Julia Oppenheimer, PhD, from Pediatrics, and clinical manager Karen Longenecker, LCSW, a social worker at the CDD who works collaboratively with providers in the Department of Family & Community Medicine.

Chacon says that because the federal funds will first be disbursed to DOH before being sent to UNM, she will be responsible for administering the grant. “It’s such a nice partnership,” she said “We couldn’t do it without each other.”

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