NM Officials Brace for COVID-19 Driven Behavioral-Health Crisis

Health officials report 178 new COVID-19 cases and two new deaths

COVID-19 is causing increased behavioral health issues across the US, with New Mexico health officials bracing for a "surge" in the state, which already has the highest suicide rate in the nation.

Shake-ups in the state's behavioral health care system that transpired during former Gov. Susana Martinez's administration continue to reverberate. For instance, the workforce remains insufficient, according to Behavioral Health Services Division Director Dr. Neal Bowen, who presented information on the issue during a COVID-19 webinar today with Human Services Secretary David Scrase.

"One of the ways we're trying to respond to that workforce numeric insufficiency is by leveraging technology to try to put behavioral health capacity at the hands of the people who are going to need support as we move into the surge and move through the COVID pandemic," Bowen said.

Concerns about behavioral health come as New Mexico continues to report higher daily case numbers. Today, health officials reported 178 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 29,157.

Bernalillo County led with new cases: 48 of them, followed by Chaves County with 28 and Doña Ana County with 26. Santa Fe County had seven new cases. The Public Education Department reported 16 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours at public schools in Bernalillo, Chaves, Doña Ana, Eddy, Lea, Roosevelt and San Juan counties.

The state also announced two additional deaths from Eddy County; there have now been 875 fatalities. As of today, 80 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 14 on ventilators.* Details on today's cases and fatalities are available at the end of this story.

New Mexico braces for increased behavioral health issues as the country as a whole reports an uptick in such issues. The Centers for Disease Control reported in late June that 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse, with 31% reporting symptoms of anxiety and/or depression; 26% reporting trauma-related disorder symptoms; 13% having started or increasing substance use; and 11% percent considering suicide. Bowen described these percentages as "astronomical…compared to baseline[s] we expect."

Studies also show increased risk and worse outcomes for COVID-19 patients with substance use disorders. Bowen also shared corresponding data for people experiencing loneliness with their general health-related habits, showing that eating healthy, getting exercise and some interactions improved outcomes.

Bowen stressed the importance of people maintaining their physical health as part of maintaining their mental/emotional health, and reaching out to one another.

"Thinking of it as distant socialization [versus social isolation] is probably a good adjustment to living successfully and healthily in terms of your behavioral well being," he said.

Officials are also keeping a close eye on suicidal ideation and attempts across the state. "Suicide has been something of a plague in New Mexico for a very long time," he said. "We're part of what's called the Rocky Mountain suicide cluster, where you have the highest of completed suicide in the United States." In New Mexico, suicide prevalence rates are not equitably distributed, but are high in the red counties in the map below.

Bowen also highlighted the data point that 20% of suicides are attributable to unemployment. "As you know…one of the collateral impacts of the COVID crisis is rising unemployment," he said. "So, it's something we really want to pay attention to. We're monitoring very closely and have trained additional folks to be able to provide crisis counseling…to people who are experiencing increased suicide ideation or attempts."

But the pandemic and ensuing social isolation has impacted everyone across the board, he said, noting anyone would benefit from seeking out resources, even for low-level anxiety, to address issues before they become acute. The state's Crisis and Access line is set up both to help people in crisis, as well as help find resources for people. "This is a great call to make if you're unsure or you're feeling distressed because of COVID," he said.

While health providers prepare for increased issues with behavioral health, New Mexico continues to grapple with COVID-19, including rising case counts and effective rates of transmission. The state's effective rate of transmission has risen to 1.25, above the target of 1.05 or less. While the seven-day rolling average for new cases remains below 168, it has risen to 152 and Scrase said he expects it will rise past the 168 marker next week. "We do believe there is some rebound effect from Labor Day," he said.

New Mexico also slipped from yellow (caution warranted) to red (trending poorly on the COVID Exit Strategy map, after edging close to returning to green (trending better).

"I always feel on edge when I see the case counts go up," Scrase said, "and particularly when our state turns red. I do have a lot of coping mechanisms, but I must confess I have those symptoms of feeling on edge…New Mexico red and Arizona yellow—that is a challenge for me to accept that. I see that it is what it is. We'll continue to monitor."

New cases

  • 48 new cases in Bernalillo County
  • 28 new cases in Chaves County
  • 3 new cases in Cibola County
  • 17 new cases in Curry County
  • 26 new cases in Doña Ana County
  • 14 new cases in Eddy County
  • 7 new cases in Lea County
  • 1 new case in Lincoln County
  • 3 new cases in McKinley County
  • 5 new cases in Otero County
  • 1 new case in Rio Arriba County
  • 11 new cases in Sandoval County
  • 5 new cases in San Juan County
  • 7 new cases in Santa Fe County
  • 1 new case in Socorro County
  • 1 new case in Taos County

New fatalities

  • A male in his 30s from Eddy County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions
  • A male in his 80s from Eddy County who was hospitalized, had underlying conditions and was a resident of Lakeview Christian Home in Carlsbad.

Congregate facilities

The Department of Health has identified at least one positive COVID-19 case in residents and/or staff in the past 28 days at the following facilities:

  • Aristocrat Assisted Living in Las Cruces
  • Atria Vista Del Rio in Albuquerque
  • Avamere at Rio Rancho
  • Bear Canyon Rehabilitation Center in Albuquerque
  • Belen Meadows Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Belen
  • Brookdale Santa Fe
  • Camino Healthcare in Albuquerque
  • Casa de Oro Center in Las Cruces
  • Casa Maria Health Care Center in Roswell
  • Fort Bayard Medical Center in Santa Clara
  • Good Life Senior Living in Lovington
  • Good Samaritan Society Las Cruces
  • Heartfelt Manor in Roswell
  • Laguna Rainbow Care in Casa Blanca
  • Lakeview Christian Home in Carlsbad
  • Las Palomas Center in Albuquerque
  • Lovington Healthcare in Lovington
  • Princeton Place in Albuquerque
  • Raton Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Raton
  • The Rehab Center of Albuquerque in Albuquerque
  • Red Rocks Care Center in Gallup
  • Retirement Ranches in Clovis
  • Silver City Care Center in Silver City
  • Sunny Day Assisted Living in Gallup
  • Sunset Villa Nursing Home in Roswell
  • Village Retirement Community in Roswell
  • The Watermark at Cherry Hills in Albuquerque
  • Welbrook Senior Living Las Cruces

Statewide cases

According to a state news release, previously reported numbers included two cases that have been identified as duplicates (one in Eddy County and one in Lea County); three cases that were not lab confirmed (one in Doña Ana County, one in Otero County and one in Sandoval County); and one case in Lea County that has been identified as an out-of-state resident; these have now been corrected. County totals are subject to change upon further investigation and determination of residency of individuals positive for COVID-19.

  • Bernalillo County: 6,547
  • Catron County: 9
  • Chaves County: 1,192
  • Cibola County: 423
  • Colfax County: 36
  • Curry County: 818
  • De Baca County: 1
  • Doña Ana County: 3,387
  • Eddy County: 839
  • Grant County: 124
  • Guadalupe County: 34
  • Harding County: 2
  • Hidalgo County: 99
  • Lea County: 1,419
  • Lincoln County: 212
  • Los Alamos County: 33
  • Luna County: 422
  • McKinley County: 4,338
  • Mora County: 7
  • Otero County: 268
  • Quay County: 74
  • Rio Arriba County: 400
  • Roosevelt County: 282
  • Sandoval County: 1,367
  • San Juan County: 3,341
  • San Miguel County: 100
  • Santa Fe County: 1,021
  • Sierra County: 46
  • Socorro County: 106
  • Taos County: 145
  • Torrance County: 74
  • Union County: 31
  • Valencia County: 581

Cases among people being held by federal agencies

  • Cibola County Correctional Center: 324
  • Otero County Prison Facility: 285
  • Otero County Processing Center: 163
  • Torrance County Detention Facility: 44

Cases among people being held by the New Mexico Department of Corrections

  • Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County: 34
  • Lea County Correctional Facility: 49
  • Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Union County: 1
  • Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Cibola County: 1
  • Otero County Prison Facility: 472
  • Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe County: 1
  • Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County: 1
  • Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Cibola County: 4

*Per the health department, hospitalization figures include people who were tested elsewhere but are hospitalized in New Mexico, but don't include people who were tested here but are hospitalized out of state.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at]sfreporter.com. Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.