POSTED: Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 10:12pm
UPDATED: Monday, February 3, 2014 - 9:41am
Las Cruces, NM (KTSM) — Thirty-thousand mentally ill patients could have no place to go for help after the State of New Mexico cut off funding for their treatments. As reported last month, an audit allegedly found that fifteen New Mexico Mental Health and Substance Abuse service providers failed to meet standards.
Roque Garcia says he feels the weight of 2000 people on his shoulders. He is the CEO of Southwest Counseling Center. The center is one of four mental health centers in Southern New Mexico that may shut down and be forced to turn their mentally ill patients away.
As we reported, Governor Susana Martinez' administration notified Garcia and 14 other providers they were shutting off Medicaid and other funding.
"Fifteen agencies had failed the Medicaid audit. That we all had allegations of fraud, which doesn't sound right," said Garcia.
The audit claimed fraud exceeding $36m.
"The staff didn't do anything wrong. We don't have any processes in place that would lend themselves to Medicaid fraud.Without any funding the agency cannot stay alive," said Garcia.
As for what exactly was found in the audit, Garcia says he hasn't received any answers. The audit is now under a criminal investigation through the Attorney General's office.
"We have not received any kind of due process. To the AG's office I've actually sent an email saying please come investigate as soon as possible. We need to get our name cleared as soon as possible," said Garcia.
But his job and his employees are only the half of it. People like Mathias Shackow are his deepest concern.
"It would be a very difficult transition for me in order to maintain my mental health," said Shackow.
Shackow suffers from Bipolar Disorder two and ADHD. Without Southwest Medical Services, he's worried he'll have difficulty finding a new place to go.
"I've stayed out of jails as a result of becoming more socially adept. Every time I've gone off my medication, I've found myself in a legal bind and therapy helps to develop coping skills for everyday life," said Shackow.
Closing so many clinics in New Mexico would affect thousands with mental illnesses.
"Incarceration, hospitalization and even suicide," said Shackow.
Suicide is something this woman Christina Scott came face to face with six years ago. She had a catatonic breakdown, ending her 18-year old stint as a teacher. She became severely depressed and was suicidal.
It was Southwestern Counseling Services that helped her get her life back.
"Now I'm teaching again which I never thought I would do again, because of the severity of my mental illness," said Garcia.
Scott now helps other mentally ill people learn to read, learn to add and obtain their GED's at Southwest Counseling.
"It's the people we keep out of jail. We keep them active members in the community, rather than in jail or in the hospital or on the streets," said Garcia.
Las Cruces Police Chief Richard Williams is familiar with the mental health situation in New Mexico.
"That could ultimately have an impact here on us in law enforcement," said Williams. "I think back to not too long ago where we had, I was working for another agency. We had an officer who was murdered by her son, who was also suffering from mental illness. So its important that we get folks the help we need.”
He's worried too many mental health patients will not be getting the help they need.
"My concern is if there's not a provider available to give these services out, that we may see an increase in our population of people who are not medicated and who are not receiving the appropriate counseling services," said Williams.
Every Las Cruces police officer is specially trained to deal with mentally ill people.
"Get to a level where we can get the situation calm and get the person the help they need," said Williams.
Most of the time it's mental health centers like Southwest Counseling Services that take people in.
"I think so many of us will be cleared, however; we'll all be out of business by then," said Garcia.
We reached out to the Attorney General's Office and he was not able to comment because it is now a criminal investigation.
On Wednesday, eight of the clinics went to federal court hoping for an injunction that would reverse the hold on the funds keeping the centers in service. That judge in Albuquerque is yet to decide.