Bond seeks $36M for new pediatric psychiatric center

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Depression and mental illness is unfortunately more common in New Mexico than most other parts of the country.

The resources New Mexico has to help children are either dwindling, or badly outdated. Now, voters will decide if they want to pay for a brand-new pediatric psychiatric center here in the metro.

“There’s always a stigma, about being mentally ill that leads to not seeking care and that leads to poor outcomes,” said Dr. Mauricio Tohen chair of the UNM Psychiatry Department. 

There is a troubling trend in New Mexico as we exit the pandemic, especially for teenagers.

“We see many more children who’s chief complaint is thoughts of harming myself, or wishing to be dead,” said Tohen. 

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences says nearly one out of every five high school students seriously considered suicide last year. Plus, the youth suicide rate in the state is more than twice the national average.

“It’s devastating, those of us who have children can’t imagine something more painful than knowing that one of your children is at risk of hurting herself or himself,” Tohen said. 

With behavioral and mental health facilities in the metro closing, pressure is mounting for a badly outdated facility on UNM’s campus.

“We do not have beds,” said Tohen. “At that time, hospitalizations would last a month, and even more than a year. Data has shown that, that is not the best way to treat patients.”

Now, doctors say it’s best if hospital stays are shorter. But this 1970s facility was designed like a campus, with different buildings to house children long term which presents staffing challenges.

Now, they want to put everything in a new building under one roof.

“When you have a horizontal hospital it’s much more efficient,” said Tohen. 

They want voters to approve increased bed capacity, a more therapeutic design, and thoughtful care for the children. Right now, the facility only has 35 beds but infrastructure problems doesn’t allow full use of all 35. 

“What can be more important than the mental health of our children? What can be more important?” asked Tohen.

This project is part of the General Obligation Bond 3 (GO Bond 3) on the ballot this November. The new facility is planned to have 52 beds with at least 4 Behavioral Health ICU beds.

Strategic planning partners of UNM also project a 16% growth of outpatient need over the next 10 years, and a 5% growth for inpatient services.

UNM is asking for $36 million for this project, but it’s part of a package of projects over $215 million to improve senior centers with libraries and other higher education projects.

Look below if you want to learn more about what you’re voting on and where your money could be going: