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New center at NMSU aims to improve behavioral health care in New Mexico

Release Date: 20 Dec 2021
New center at NMSU aims to improve behavioral health care in New Mexico

Strengthening a comprehensive system of care throughout a vast and diverse state like New Mexico is no small task. 

But that’s the mission of a new institution at New Mexico State University.

The Center of Innovation for Behavioral Health and Wellbeing, or COI, at NMSU may be new, but its roots run deep. 

Housed in the Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Department in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Cooperative Extension Service at NMSU, the COI aims to provide foundational support for New Mexico children and families as a recognized leader across in advancing the reach and capacity of the behavioral health workforce.

Through program implementation, training and curriculum development, COI offers health care providers, state agencies and community stakeholders access to the resources and infrastructure required to integrate innovative approaches and best practices within their communities, said Brooke Stanley Tou, COI director.

“As a state, New Mexico is still working hard to recover from the 2013 behavioral health shake-up that resulted in the closure of many long-standing, community-based behavioral health agencies,” Stanley Tou said. “At COI, we’re looking at supporting community-based programs to thrive. … A lot of that comes back to training, but it’s also coaching and mentoring programs, outreach and community awareness.”

New Mexico’s behavioral health care system is stretched thin. According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit, New Mexico ranks 42nd in behavioral health care for youth, indicating they have a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care.

In the past decade, the state’s mental health care system faced external challenges that made it difficult for people to get services. About 55 percent of those in need of mental health care in New Mexico do not receive treatment, according to federal data.

Stanley Tou envisions COI serving as a “training hub and workforce development center” to bolster the state’s system, specifically for those under 21. That would include adding qualified providers – crucial in a system with waiting lists – and allowing existing providers to focus more on patients rather than organizing trainings and other support systems.

“One thing that we’ve learned is that you can’t just throw training at groups,” Stanley Tou said. “You need to support them over time. We support them from beginning to end.”

Stanley Tou said the state’s Children Youth and Families Department’s Behavioral Health Services is a key partner in the implementation of a coordinated system of care that advances high-quality services and support throughout the behavioral health care system in the state.  

Stanley Tou pointed to the NM High-Fidelity Wraparound program as an example of COI working collaboratively with state partners. 

The program, Stanley Tou explained, is a nationally recognized best practice for intensive care coordination for children and youth ages 0-21 with complex needs. A Wraparound team works together to support the services and systems a youth and family already have in place and helps identify additional supports as needed. 

Stanley Tou said COI is collaborating with CYFD to expand access to the program across New Mexico.

“COI and CYFD are ensuring the success of High-Fidelity Wraparound by guiding community-based providers through an intensive training, certification and fidelity monitoring process,” she said.

CYFD will initially serve as the center’s primary funding source. It’s a natural pairing because many COI staff members have worked with CYFD for years. It was a smaller, less formal version of COI with NMSU organizing trainings, conferences and programs on a single-contract basis. 

For several years, COI was known as the Southwest Regional Training Center. That generic name was problematic, said Robert Moreno, head of the Family and Consumer Sciences Department and the Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Department.

When Moreno arrived at NMSU in 2019, he suggested rebranding so that more people would understand the center’s role. 

“It helps identify us as being one of the leaders in the state for child development and, broadly, family well-being,” he said.

COI works well under the Cooperative Extension Service, Stanley Tou said, because it is “focused on outreach to the community.” The center also serves as a resource to the NMSU and CES communities, providing behavioral health workforce development expertise and training to staff and students.

Going forward, Stanley Tou said COI plans to work with state partners to transition some of the state’s core services to become Medicaid billable, further strengthening the system. Eventually, the plan is to make COI a self-funded entity within NMSU, providing training and program implementation support across New Mexico’s child-serving systems.

“The vision of the Center of Innovation is that the wellbeing and resilience of children, youth, and families throughout the state of New Mexico is enriched by an accessible, effective and responsive network of support,” Stanley Tou said.

For more information about the NMSU Center of Innovation for Behavioral Health and Wellbeing, visit https://aces.nmsu.edu/centerofinnovation/

A version of this story was first published in the fall 2021 issue of ACES Magazine. To read the issue, visit https://bit.ly/3qeSbuj.

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