Rural New Mexico county receives top honors for innovative mental health program

FARMINGTON, NM – San Juan County has been recognized by the National Association of Counties for an innovative mental health program that meets customer needs by connecting them to local resources.

Liza Gomez, director of community health and social services at the San Juan County Mental Wellness Resource Center, said counties generally don’t get involved in mental health work, but they’ve spotted a shortcoming that could not be ignored.

“There was a recognized need for expanded behavioral health services, mental health services for the community. So in 2018, the then commission approved funds to commission a gap analysis,” Gomez said.

Which identified a need for a resource center.

“The idea was that we would be a place where people could come and get resources in the community starting with mental health services, behavioral health services, like addiction treatment,” Gomez added.

“Most of the work we do is helping people find accommodation…we’ve seen an increase in people saying ‘I’ve just been evicted, I don’t have a place to live, I ‘really need help,'” Gomez said.

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

“I had a client who was stranded here at one point, his car broke down and he was really struggling to find housing. We were able to go through the housing program, he managed to get into the housing assistance and was able to find housing. And now he is also working in the community,” Saiz said.

From November 2020 to October 2021, they helped connect 614 customers to community resources.

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