ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An investigation has found that some patients discharged from New Mexico’s state mental hospital in Las Vegas live in poor conditions, including going hungry, while staying in boarding homes.
The Albuquerque Journal found (http://bit.ly/2dGa5iJ ) that the state mental hospital, formally known as the Behavioral Health Institute, discharges about 200 patients each year into Las Vegas and surrounding San Miguel County in northern New Mexico and that many don’t have anywhere to go.
The newspaper investigation found many end up in boarding homes that are ill-equipped to handle their ongoing mental health needs, forcing them to spend a large portion of their $750 in monthly Social Security disability benefits on room and meals.
Two men released from the psychiatric hospital died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2013 at a boarding home while paying a total of $1,100 a month to live in a backyard shed without plumbing.
There have also been reports of verbal and physical abuse, and financial exploitation of residents by operators, as well as violence and drug abuse by residents.
Las Vegas Fire Chief Phillip Mares says he supports state regulations, which could spell out requirements for such things as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other requirements that could save lives.
The state Health Department says it doesn’t have the authority to regulate boarding homes.
However the problem has been well known for some time. The director and deputy director of the Health Department’s Behavioral Health Services Division raised concerns about boarding homes in a memo to the secretary of the Health Department in 2014.
“The lack of affordable and safe housing for persons with severe mental illness is a significant challenge in New Mexico as well as other states,” they wrote in a memo. “…Board and Care Homes can have serious challenges which can include building safety code violations; public health and cleanliness issues; lack of privacy and dignity for residents; nutritionally deficient meals, and overcrowded conditions.”
Shela Silverman, director of the nonprofit Mental Health Association of New Mexico, says Las Vegas has become a “mental health ghetto.”
“How are you going to get out?” Silverman asks. “They stay there for 30 years. They could have bought a home.”
Las Vegas Mayor Tonita Gurule-Giron declined to be interviewed for this story.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com