UPDATE, Oct.7: One day after an ABC-7 news report about the Crisis Triage Center in Las Cruces denying care, at least one Doña Ana County commissioner questioned whether the private company responsible for running the center is upholding its end of the contract with the county.
“This is a problem we’re going to continue to run into until they get properly staffed with enough people to run the operation,” send Commissioner Shannon Reynolds, who represents District 3.
On Thursday, the county’s director of health and human services acknowledged the problem, but said the center still has a mission to provide 24/7 care.
“We know that the experience this man had was not okay,” said HHS Director Jamie Michael. “We also know that this is a very new model across the country. This is brand new in Doña Ana County. We have some growing pains.”
ORIGINAL REPORT, Oct. 6: LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Staffers at a center designed to provide 24/7 crisis triage turned away a man who sought care on Wednesday morning in Doña Ana County.
"This isn’t forgivable," Sheriff Kim Stewart said. "This was a contract. The county paid for this. So, what services are we actually getting?"
“I think the sheriff is right to be frustrated," admitted Paul Galdys, the deputy CEO of RI International, the company who manages the center. "We fell short in our responsibility."
On Wednesday morning, the sheriff decided to intervene in a call of a man carrying a pipe in the Village of Doña Ana. She had the heard the name of the 29-year-old man, Ruben, before. According to court documents, he had been arrested by deputies 26 times this year for mostly trespassing calls.
Instead of booking the man into jail a 27th time, the sheriff asked her deputy to take Ruben to the Crisis Triage Center. The building is intended to be open 24/7 and provide short-term mental health care for patients in crisis.
“I’ve seen people like this in my career killed," the sheriff said. "So, I take this very seriously because I don’t want my deputies ever to have to kill him.”
However, a staffer in the building denied Ruben entry at around 9 a.m Monday morning. She told the sheriff, "Unfortunately, we do not have a nurse right now. We cannot accept anybody."
“I lied to this guy," the sheriff told the staffer. "I’m the sheriff. I lied to him. I really resent that.”
Doña Ana County contracts with RI International to staff the $2.1 million building, which sat empty for eight years. It opened in June of 2021.
Galdys told ABC-7 that the center is "designed to serve everyone that shows up with mental health and substance use crisis." At the time that staff denied the patient care, he admitted that the center was not properly staffed.
"Our commitment continues to be that we say 'yes' every time," Galdys said. "I’ve got to be honest with you, it sounds a little hollow because we did not do so today.”
According to RI International, the Crisis Triage Center has served 69 people in the past four months.