By Mark Rudi

Addressing a Need

New Behavioral Health Clinic opens at UNM Health Sciences Rio Rancho

There is a big need for better access to behavioral health care in New Mexico.

To help with that effort, The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center recently launched its new Behavioral Health Clinic at the UNM Health Sciences Rio Rancho campus.

The new clinic expands access to behavioral health care to Sandoval County and the adjacent areas of the state. The clinic opened in early July, but its opening was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday evening.

"We worked hard on this for over two years," said clinic director Christopher Morris, PhD, a clinical psychologist. "The process was often slow, but I think many committed individuals wanted to see better access to behavioral health care in Sandoval County and wanted to see UNM take a lead role in that."

The clinic is currently seeing patients for psychotherapy and Morris said it has been very busy since it opened. The clinic's focus is to provide quality care for high-prevalence conditions, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The clinic has a staff of five, but is looking to grow that number. Morris said they are recruiting for psychiatric prescribers, so that they will be to prescribe appropriate medication in addition to providing therapy. They hope to have those providers on soon.

"What's interesting about Sandoval County is it's a populated county . . . and there are a lot of resources here," Morris said. "However, they are not enough to meet the needs of the large population. It's been very important for the clinic to open here and be able to provide that additional access to care. I also think people look to UNM for a certain standard of care, and that is a large part of the explanation of how busy we have been right out the gate - because really it's been word of mouth."

The new clinic is part of the UNM Health Sciences Center's ongoing commitment to Rio Rancho and Sandoval County. Since 2012 Rio Rancho has been home to UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC), a 72-bed community hospital.

"Behavioral health is one of those things that's just an undeniable mission that has to be taken on in New Mexico," Rio Rancho mayor Greg Hull said during Tuesday's ceremony. "We hear people talking about it and we need to do something. It's so invigorating to say that today, Rio Rancho - the City of Vision - is doing something about it."

A. Robb McLean, MD, SRMC's chief medical officer, said the new clinic is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, in particular Jamie Silva-Steele, SRMC's president and CEO, Jill Klar, CEO of UNM Medical Group, Inc., the UNM Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and community members.

"I think one of the fantastic things about this particular clinic is that, No. 1, we are setting it in the academic environment," McLean said. "It is specifically designed around being able to participate in the education of students in this community, while also addressing the specific clinical needs of the community."