By: Tris DeRoma — The Los Alamos Monitor Online

Many of Los Alamos County’s leading nonprofits and organizations, including United Way of Northern New Mexico, Self Help Inc, the Los Alamos Public Schools and others spent time last week seeking ways to build a stronger network of behavioral health services in Los Alamos County.

Tris DeRoma/Monitor Ellen Ben-Naim, left, talks with University of New Mexico, Los Alamos CEO Cynthia Rooney, middle, and Los Alamos Community Executive Director Rachel Kizielewicz about what they could do as a community to create better access to mental health services for Los Alamos County residents.

The group listened to a presentation March 15 given by a special guest speaker from Colorado who formed a mental health advocacy organization.

The next morning, the group held a roundtable discussion about how they as a group could use what they learned to provide more mental health options for the residents of Los Alamos County.

United Way of Northern New Mexico’s marketing and program coordinator, Jeremy Varela, said the two days taught them a lot, and they are anxious to advance their agenda.

“We created some working groups to move forward. We’re in the midst of keeping everything going now, and that’s the hard part,” Varela said.

The group’s main organizers, including the Los Alamos Public Schools, United Way and Self Help will help set agendas for some of the subgroups formed Friday, groups assigned to deal with youth advocacy, county issues, behavioral health resources and other topics.

Their guest Thursday was Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. Romanoff’s organization helps in policy development and advocates removing barriers to mental healthcare in the state of Colorado. Romanoff shared with the group that his goal is to have Mental Health Colorado perfect a mental healthcare system that could be used as a national model.

“I’d definitely like Colorado to become the national leader, but if Los Alamos said ‘we want to be the most mentally healthiest community,’ I’d say ‘more power to them.’ That’s our goal too,” Romanoff said.

Romanoff was invited to speak to the group by Ellen Bond, the executive director of Self Help Inc. Bond heard Romanoff speak at the University of New Mexico’s medical school in Albuquerque last year.

“He gives us an inspiring model for us all to move ahead,” Bond said.

She and others at the talk liked what he was doing as far as applying pressure to insurance companies to increase access to mental health services and advocating having physical healthcare and mental health care services in the same building. She said the only place where that remotely happens is inside the emergency room at the Los Alamos Medical Center.

Los Alamos School Board Vice President Ellen Ben-Naim agreed.

“I think the advocacy piece spoke to me, and the opportunities for different organizations, like the schools and the county working together,” she said.

She also liked the wisdom Romanoff shared of having mental health services and physical healthcare services physically under one roof.

“The other piece that spoke to me was in the area of having physical health and mental health services in one place, collected together to reduce stigma and increase access.” she said. “I’d love to see that in Los Alamos.”

Los Alamos Municipal Court Judge Alan Kirk said it was nice to hear what other states were doing about behavioral health issues.

“I think it was great. It’s nice to hear what’s going on in the neighboring states,” Municipal Court Judge Alan Kirk said. “The issues that we brought up are exactly the issues we face, not only locally, but the whole state. We are in desperate need of mental health services.”

United Way Marketing Director Jeremy Varela said there were plenty of things they could take away from the discussions and presentations.

“I think it’s opened up some possibilities to some things we can do as a community to provide more services for our residents,” Varela said. “It’s more about creating better communication between providers, non-profits and stakeholders working together to create something.”

Article originally published on The Los Alamos Monitor Online.