UNM Behavioral Health Clinic Manager Patrick Moya watches as Wraparound Facilitator Elizabeth McBride takes care of some Friday afternoon duties at the Rio Rancho facility. Photo by Gary Herron.

The services at the UNM Behavioral Health Clinic in Rio Rancho are expanding, even amid the pandemic.

The clinic, at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center campus in City Center, is serving about 200 patients and has openings for more, said clinical director and psychologist Christopher Morris. The staff is growing as well.

“We’ve been able to add our prescribing providers,” Morris said, explaining that the clinic can now offer psychiatric medication management.

The three providers who can write prescriptions are each available one day a week.

“They all have different backgrounds, different specialties, which is good,” he said.

Morris plans to recruit more providers, including prescribers, to the clinic, but said it’s difficult due to the shortage of behavioral health care workers in New Mexico. Now, the clinic has two psychologists, a full-time therapist, three prescribing providers, two wraparound care specialists and one certified family peer support worker.

The wraparound care specialists and family peer support worker are part of the New Mexico Systems of Care program, a partnership with the state Children, Youth and Families Department. The program supports youth with the most complex behavioral health needs and their families.

Those youth have been involved with multiple systems, such as child protective services, juvenile justice and special education.

“It can be challenging when a family has to deal with all those systems,” he said.

Morris said the program’s goal is to help the youth and their families identify and move toward goals, with support that includes friends and extended family.

It’s operating with a four-year grant the clinic received last October. Morris said getting the program going took several months.

He expects to make it sustainable so it can keep going after the grant period. The program has capacity for 20 families and is accepting referrals.

“It will continue to grow to meet the needs,” Morris said.

He’s looking for a wraparound-care team leader. People with a behavioral-health or social-work background can apply at unmjobs.unm.edu.

The aim of the whole clinic is to grow to meet the needs in Sandoval County, he continued.

“We have seen increasing demand in the current pandemic,” Morris said.

Mental-health providers commonly see patients fail to keep appointments 20-25 percent of the time, he said.

“And that no-show rate has dropped to near zero in COVID-19, which is significant,” he continued. “People are anxious and stressed.”

At the beginning of the pandemic in New Mexico, Morris said, clinic providers switched to telephone services and found they could still do most of what they normally would. When they were able to offer video visits, that service was even better, he said, because the provider and patient could see each other.

The clinic returned to holding face-to-face sessions in June, but patients can still choose video or telephone visits.

“We just want to be sure people can access the care they need,” Morris said.

Another big project at the clinic is the Mental Health First Aid program. It’s a national evidence-based curriculum designed to teach people about mental-health challenges and learn how to help someone in a mental-health crisis or an ongoing behavioral-health struggle.

“It’s a course that is available virtually, by video, as everything else is,” Morris said.

The clinic offers it quarterly and a decision on the next class date is pending.

Also, Morris said the clinic is partnering with Rio Rancho Public Schools to offer a new Youth Mental Health First Aid program in all four district high schools. The curriculum, which has virtual and in-class portions, teaches teenagers how to support and get adult help for peers with mental-health problems.

“It’s a brand-new curriculum, and there’s a lot of competition nationally for schools to be involved,” Morris said.

RRPS is one of the few selected.

For questions about the clinic or to participate in any of its programs, call 994-5050.