Valencia County deputies now have better access to mental health services.
The Valencia County Commission unanimously approved a professional services contract last month with Albuquerque-based Public Safety Psychology Group, a mental health provider which primarily serves first responders and their families.
The company also provides services to the Belen, Bosque Farms and Los Lunas police departments, as well as dozens of law enforcement and emergency services agencies across the state.
Valencia County Undersheriff Jeff Noah said the sheriff’s office has been trying to increase mental health services for employees for some time.
“We tried doing this through a grant but we didn’t get it. We are still trying to secure grants to expand the services,” Noah said.
The annual cost of the contract, $15,300, will be paid using gross receipts tax revenues the sheriff’s office receives, he said.
The undersheriff said deputies mostly deal with the negative aspects of life, even during “good times. We’re the ones who have to tell you to turn down the music. The violence we’re seeing is increasing. Shootings, sexual assault. All these things are having an effect on individuals and they need to find a way to get help.”
The staff with PSPG will meet with deputies before they are called for services, he said, to get to know the employees.
“They are also available in the case where a deputy is dealing with someone in crisis or who is combative, which will allow deputies to call in and get advice on how to help the person,” Noah said. “We have worked with them on critical incident debriefings, but this will be more consistent.”
Commissioner Joseph Bizzell asked if insurance or worker’s compensation be involved with assisting an employee with the aftermath of a critical incident.
“There could be long-term affects,” Bizzell said. “They should cover it because it happened on the job.”
County human resources director Orlando Montoya said he and Noah agreed that should be the case, but it wasn’t.
“Worker’s comp doesn’t cover mental health at this point,” Montoya said. “We do run (claims) through worker’s comp but they have been denied.”
“Repeatedly,” Noah added.
Saying he wanted to make sure officers are taken care of and the claims are submitted for their benefit, Bizzell noted in his line of work in the private sector, he has put claims through worker’s compensation for linemen who have witnessed a death.
Noah said the sheriff’s office has submitted claims for officers involved in shootings, but the county’s insurance provider — the New Mexico Association of Counties — hasn’t taken action on them.
“It’s been a fight to get them to do anything and it’s very minimal what they do. We are trying to find something internally,” he said. “This is not long-term treatment. This group could refer (an officer) over to long-term services. They could give us paperwork to show worker’s comp they need long term care.”
Noah noted NMAC’s insurance pool has recognized mental health needs within other groups of public safety employees, and while they were starting to recognize the need in law enforcement, the organization was “not there.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.