Kristi Daugherty

Due to historical underfunding and the fear and ignorance associated with mental illness, for decades El Paso’s mental health delivery systems have had few, if any, notable improvements and innovations. Yet through hard work and advocacy, the landscape is changing.

Doors to new funding and programs that had historically been closed have opened. Emergence Health Network, or EHN, as El Paso’s Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities Authority, is working to bring forth strategic partnerships and innovative clinical services that have never existed in this community. This means more and better quality services for individuals with a developmental disability or mental health diagnosis.

Mental health agencies often face greater challenges than those of other institutions in the healthcare sector. While private and public healthcare providers periodically face budget decreases, behavioral health organizations have historically operated significantly below appropriate funding levels. This has inhibited innovation and program growth.

New federal funding streams are fueling change within the industry. In El Paso alone, system redesign funding has resulted in $23 million dollars over a five-year period for mental health services.

EHN has funneled these monies into programs such as the Extended Observation Unit, which opened last year. It provides individuals in a mental health crisis the appropriate treatment in a timely manner. It is designed to prevent overcrowding in our jails and emergency rooms and alleviate wait times for those who need immediate care.

EHN also has a new Multisystemic Therapy (MST) program aimed at El Paso’s at-risk youth. It provides juvenile offenders access to therapists 24 hours a day and addresses issues with family, school and peer groups. National data shows this program has great long-term success in improving the lives of families at risk.

When an individual with a developmental disability experiences a mental health crisis, access to appropriate care is a challenge. Few medical professionals in El Paso are trained to provide treatment to this delicate patient population, but Emergence’s new START Crisis Stabilization service provides intense crisis stabilization and support when it is needed most.

This type of unprecedented growth cannot be achieved or sustained without the involvement of fellow healthcare providers, law enforcement officials, educators and key policymakers to enhance systems of care and fight against the stigma associated with behavioral health. After all, it is through communication and partnership that we dispel myths and open dialogue about suicide, depression, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, PTSD and the many other behavioral issues that affect our region.

Through a partnership between EHN and the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation, Mental Health First Aid, or MHFA, is now offered throughout the region. This 8-hour course provides community members with an overview of mental illness issues and important steps to take when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. The Foundation’s “Think.Change Initiative” has been instrumental in developing localized community initiatives such as MHFA to fight stigma and create positive change.

Area educators have embraced MHFA as a viable tool in addressing the needs of students and faculty. Through a partnership between Emergence and El Paso Independent School District, hundreds of counselors, wellness officials, special-education professionals and other educators will be trained in Mental Health First Aid in an effort to provide better services to any student living with mental health issues.

“Once trained, our staff will be able to identify mental health issues and give the appropriate referral to families who want nothing but the assurance that their child will get the best treatment in the fastest manner possible,” said EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera.

The battle for improved care and increased awareness is not yet over. There is much work yet to do as a community and as a nation until someone with a mental health diagnosis can speak openly without fear of retaliation or attack. But through active advocacy and investment, the lives of those individuals in our community who need care the most will no longer be diminished.

Emergence Health Network is the Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities Authority for El Paso County and provides a range of outpatient services including 24-hour crisis services, Early Childhood Intervention, Veteran Peer Support and Supportive Housing Services. Texas Local Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability (MH & IDD) Authorities (LMHA) are part of local government. In accordance with state statutes, centers strive to develop services for persons who have a serious and persistent mental illness or who may have an intellectual disability.