Creating Connections

Making 2021 a year of action


Nothing is highlighted more from 2020 than the need to make connections and keep the connections we already built going into 2021. Then, we need to act on them.

The coronavirus pandemic has given us a rejuvenated sense of community and social cohesion. Self-isolation has challenged us as social animals who need relationships and interaction. Social media and the internet has offered opportunities to connect not only directly one-on-one but also through shared positive words and actions like “The Kindness Pandemic” and many others.

We have developed new and creative ways to communicate and network. There have been so many ideas and solutions shared in thousands of Zoom meetings, now is the time to make them move.

The LC3 Behavioral Health Collaborative conducted a strategic measurement impact survey of its members which consist of organizations across Doña Ana County that deal with behavioral health issues. This survey, while being specific to a region, is a microcosm of the communication issues that plague the organization of society.

LC3 is a collective impact strategy initiative that seeks to build the Ideal behavioral health system to close the gaps in services for individuals, families and youth. There are 170 stakeholders who represent approximately 60 different agencies and organizations in the collaborative.

Survey results were released in December during a “State of Behavioral Health in Doña Ana County” meeting. According to the results, the collaborative found there is deficient access to information for patients and providers, there is a lack of centralization and people don’t know how and who to contact. The providers of LC3 are in need of better communication, coordination and collaboration, not only in general but also in regards pandemic information, said Germain Degardin (program specialist at the New Mexico State University College of Education’s Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation & Policy Center) during his presentation of the results.

According to the survey results, the challenges to providing services needed to the community include a shortage of behavioral and mental health general and specialist providers. In 2018 the patient-to-mental health provider ratio in Doña Ana County was 340:1. Other challenges involve the patients being unsure how to reach providers, the insurances and financial resources.

There is a strong need for behavioral and mental health services in the K-12 school systems as well:

  • 36 percent of high school students in Doña Ana County reported feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • 14 percent seriously considers suicide
  • 14 percent made suicide plans
  • 9 percent attempted suicide
  • 3 percent were injured in a suicide

The schools need to collaborate with outside providers, address the stigma around behavioral health, provide training to teachers and staff and provide resources and support to students and families.

“Priority services and programs require services that are continuous, deep and broad,” said Al Galves, (Las Cruces psychologist) during the survey meeting.

This can describe where we should go in 2021: Seek connections that are continuous, deep and broad and act on them. We have had the opportunity to spend a year planning the future, now let’s move into it with determination and action.

We do need to keep connecting with each other and determine what is meaningful action for moving forward. But we also need to keep connecting for our own sakes. Human connection is a critical part of mental health and with physical distancing keeping us apart we also must put in the extra effort to touch bases with those we love, those we work with and the community at large.

In Silver City, Charmeine Wait and the MainStreet/Arts & Cultural District program are modeling great collaboration and working toward supporting the community, including the businesses, by building positive supports. They go above and beyond in the extra effort category.

They positively support the businesses by recognizing them with Downtown Silver City Strong Awards, organizing events, shopping incentives and making sure the downtown area has great signage and decorations. This is one of the many organizations that models moving forward into a positive year.

Let’s look for ways to support the future, make strategies become actions and find ways to make a difference. Perhaps a willingness to change is key to the future. While some businesses can’t survive, many will grow and adapt in these times as well. Many businesses have reinvented themselves with a “business as unusual” philosophy.

It’s okay to start small and break those goals into microtasks, one step at a time. Collaboratively, the first step may be the hardest, but we have passed that now; 2020 has been a year of first steps. Focus on action and outcome and move into the future.

We can’t wait until things are perfect before acting on our plans; we would be waiting forever. There is no perfect time to get out and do it, there is only now.

Elva K. Österreich is editor of Desert Exposure and would love to meet Desert Exposure readers in Silver City or any of our coverage areas. Please contact her at editor@desertexposure.com or by cell phone at 575-443-4408 to set a place and time to meet.