Rural New Mexico county receives high honors for its innovative mental health program

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FARMINGTON, N.M. — San Juan County was recognized by the National Association of Counties for an innovative mental health program that addresses client’s needs by connecting them with local resources.

Liza Gomez, the Community Health and Social Services director at San Juan County’s Mental Wellness Resource Center, said counties typically don’t get involved in mental health work, but they spotted a gap that couldn’t be ignored. 

“There was a recognized need for expanded behavior health services, mental health services for the community. So, in 2018 the commission at the time approved some funds to commission a gaps analysis,” Gomez said.

Which identified a need for a resource center.

“The idea was we would be a place where people could come for resources in the community starting with mental health services, behavioral health services, such as substance abuse treatments,” Gomez added.

“The majority of the work we do is helping people get housing… we did see a rise in folks say ‘I just got evicted, I don’t have any place to live, I really need some help,’” Gomez said.

Cassandra Saiz helps clients make those connections, she said although it may only be one person at a time, the difference they are making in people’s lives is huge.

“I did have a client who was stranded here at one time, his car broke down and he was really struggling with finding a place to live. We were able to go through the housing program, he successfully got into the housing assistance and was able to find a place to live. And now he is also working in the community,” Saiz said.

From November 2020 to October 2021, they have helped connect 614 clients to resources in the community.