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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mental illness treatment receives a long-awaited boost

Governor inaugurates ASSMCA Mental Health Center in Bayamón, announces construction of psychiatric hospital with $87 million investment



The newly renovated Puerto Rico Mental Health Center in Bayamón will provide outpatient, residential and community services to children, youth and their families as part of the public policy established to address and prevent severe emotional disorders, risky behaviors, controlled substance use, adjustment problems and adaptation issues at home, school and in the community. (Photo courtesy of La Fortaleza)

By The Star Staff


While mental health might not have been at the center of attention in years past in many places, Puerto Rico included, a number of governments, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, have taken it into consideration and placed it higher on the list of public policy priorities.


Puerto Rico is currently also taking mental health more seriously, as earlier this month the Capitol changed the colors it displays at night to green in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. And on Tuesday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, alongside the director of the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services inaugurated (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials), Dr. Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, and Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López, inaugurated the new Puerto Rico Mental Health Center (PRMHC) at Dr. Ramón Ruiz Arnau University Hospital in Bayamón.


The center will provide outpatient, residential and community services to children, youth and their families as part of the public policy established to address and prevent severe emotional disorders, risky behaviors, controlled substance use, adjustment problems, and adaptation issues at home, school and in the community.


With an investment of $1.3 million, sourced from state and federal funds, the PRMHC is affiliated with the ASSMCA and features five new programs to address and treat mental health, substance use, and abuse. The programs cater to the outpatient, intensive outpatient, and residential care levels for the age group of 0 to 20 years, as established under Puerto Rico’s Mental Health Law 408-2000. The new services will employ 120 specialized professionals.


“My administration and I are firmly committed to providing a dignified quality of life for our people, and we are taking cutting-edge steps every day to strengthen and expand access to quality mental health services,” Pierluisi said. “Specifically, through the services and programs we are inaugurating today, we seek to ensure that our children and young people, as well as their families, receive the necessary early intervention to address diagnoses and substance dependence, allowing them to achieve their full development and overall well-being, and contribute to the society we all aspire to.”


Rodríguez Mateo, the ASSMCA administrator, stated that after the closure in 2020 of the ASSMCA Mental Health Center in Bayamón due to the pandemic, on Tuesday a specialized public mental health center was inaugurated to provide psychiatric services for trauma, crisis events, and globally competitive addiction treatment. In addition to creating jobs for the medical profession, it integrates families and communities into the treatment.


“Mental health is everything, as without it, there is no physical well-being,” Rodríguez Mateo said. “After traumatic and shocking events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and a pandemic, our children and young people need specialized help more than ever. Through the renovated facilities of the Puerto Rico Mental Health Center by ASSMCA in Bayamón, we have launched first-rate programs for this population, with a public health approach that includes families and communities as support networks. We are proud to inaugurate a project that will serve all of Puerto Rico and be of great benefit to society, in accordance with Governor Pierluisi’s public policy.”


The PRMHC began operating five mental health and addiction treatment programs starting Tuesday, which can be requested directly by parents, guardians, or referred by school personnel or community representatives, as well as those working with human behavior. The treatment offered is based on evidence-based models, such as the System of Care Model and Wraparound Strategies, and Intensive Home-Based Care, among others.


Interventions are carried out by professionals in the field of human behavior, with the main goal of promoting, strengthening and restoring the adaptive functioning of children, youth and their families in their homes, schools and communities. This includes reducing vulnerabilities and risky behaviors, stabilizing symptoms, and regulating their behavior and thoughts. In addition, the programs will offer primary caregivers crisis management strategies, establishing safety plans and connecting them with other support systems.


The Residential Service Program for Adolescents with Controlled Substance Use Problems provides 24-hour services seven days a week to adolescents ages 13 to 17. It consists of 24 beds divided into two clinics for males and females with substance use issues. Services offered include social work, individual, group and family psychotherapy, recreational and occupational therapy, educational assistance, pharmacotherapy, psychiatric treatment, pediatric assessments, psychoeducational therapy and nursing services. The program includes psychologists, social workers, service supervisors, nursing supervisors, nurses, patient service assistants, service facilitators, educational therapists, recreational therapists, occupational therapists and a substance abuse counselor.


Meanwhile, the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Services program focuses on providing clinical services in the community to strengthen and maximize clinical services for children and youth, aimed at enhancing the provision of clinical services. This program aims to bring services to the homes of families in need and is available to participants who do not have immediate access to acute services such as hospitalization or residential treatment.


The Trauma-Informed Treatment Program integrates specialized trauma services to address the needs of children and youth, and is complemented by the Specialized Substance Treatment Program for Adolescents and the Specialized Recreational Active Care Project, which provides community support services for identifying traumatic symptomatology, community education, and care coordination for early childhood populations.


Additionally, with the new structure, services for the treatment of substance use disorders for children and adolescents were expanded through specialized units for the treatment of adolescents and young adults with disorders. This will provide outpatient treatment services, integrating primary care and psychosocial services to impact the population. The expansion will increase and strengthen access to treatment services for the population with controlled substance use disorders and mental health issues.


The governor also announced that the inauguration of the PRMHC in Bayamón is accompanied by the construction of the new Puerto Rico Psychiatric Hospital, which will have 257 beds. The new hospital will strengthen the mental health services offered by the commonwealth, providing appropriate infrastructure in compliance with hospital construction codes and standards for mental health.


Some $87 million has been allocated for the project, with $85 million coming from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Mitigation program and $2 million in commonwealth funds for design and permit expenses.

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