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‘This sobering center will literally save lives’: Rep. Stansbury recalls relative in visit to future medical facility

After touring a future medical sobering center in Albuquerque, U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., recalled a relative who was in need of such a place when he relapsed and died in jail 15 years ago.

“They had been sober for many years, and unfortunately, (he) was picked up and put into a local county detention center and died of their addiction in a jail cell,” she said. “And it was subsequently found that our family member would have survived had he received medical care. So this sobering center will literally save lives.”

Stansbury and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., toured parts of the Gibson Health Hub, where a 58-bed sobering center is under construction and expected to be open sometime this summer.

That part of the complex – which is being revamped from the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson – received $4.2 million in federal funding. Bernalillo County has also allocated $4.4 million and it is expected that it will cost $8.7 million to build the sobering center and run it for the first year.

The center was one of the community projects or “earmarks” that Stansbury and Heinrich requested money for in the last budget cycle, Stansbury said.

Such a center provides more monitoring than a detox facility. It allows people to get sober for up to 24 hours under the care of medical personnel, said Gilbert Ramirez, the city’s Behavioral Health and Wellness deputy director.

Ramirez said it will be the first center of its kind in Albuquerque. It is expected to serve people who are perhaps too intoxicated to walk or have other minor medical conditions. But the person doesn’t need to be taken to an emergency room or arrested and jailed, he said.

“We can do the medical sober for up to 24 hours,” Ramirez said. “And then transition them to where they need to be.”

The Gibson Health Hub is also home to the city’s Gateway Center, an emergency overnight shelter that is expected to grow. The complex also houses other tenants where people can seek services, like signing up for Medicaid and substance abuse treatment.

Heinrich said during a tour of the facility that directing people to the sobering center instead of emergency rooms will help regular citizens who end up at the hospital for various reasons.

“It really goes back in my experience when I was on the City Council, and I saw this mismatch where resources were not being allocated efficiently,” he said. “And I think what we saw here is an opportunity to coordinate those things. And then that frees up resources for everybody to do the job that they’re best trained to do, instead of expecting everyone to be everything for everyone.”