Bernalillo County to try new behavioral health strategy (Associated Press)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With New Mexico in the middle of a budget crisis, cities and counties around the state are going to have to look for new ways to boost behavioral health services and fight the effects of opioid abuse.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins made the comments while visiting Washington, D.C., for a meeting hosted by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Hart Stebbins and other officials on Thursday talked about the potential of pay-for-success programs in which local governments make payments to contractors and other service providers only if they meet certain milestones and outcomes.

Bernalillo County – the state's most populous county – is getting ready to issue a request for proposals for its first pay-for-success contract. More than a year in the making, the initiative would be aimed at prevention and early intervention, Hart Stebbins said in a phone interview.

“This is a different way of looking at it. It's a way of getting better value for taxpayer dollars,” she said.

It will likely be next spring by the time the county makes a final decision on the proposals, and the scope of the services to be offered will depend on the priorities outlined by community groups, nonprofits and others that are expected to submit plans. The county says it also has been working with the city of Albuquerque and consultants to vet potential programs.

The effort will be funded with the help of a special gross receipts tax that went into effect in 2015. The tax raises about $17 million annually.

Hart Stebbins acknowledged that revenue from the tax represents just a fraction of what's needed to address gaps in mental health services in the greater Albuquerque area but that such funding becomes more important as state revenues dwindle.

“I feel like we're pretty much on our own,” she said. “We at the local government level are going to have step up and address these problems.”

Hart Stebbins said Bernalillo County officials recognized a need since so many of those who were incarcerated at the county jail suffered from behavioral health disorders. Jails aren't the right place to be addressing those problems, she said, pointing to the need for the preventative services.