Since January 1, 2019 Charlene Pyskoty has been the Bernalillo County Commissioner for District 5. On Jan. 14, 2020, Commissioner Pyskoty was elected Bernalillo County Board Vice Chair. Charlene Pyskoty is a licensed mental health therapist in private practice. Commissioner Pyskoty has spent nearly 20 years as a licensed mental health therapist. She holds a Master’s degrees in Public Health and Sociology. She has been successfully self-employed for most of her career, as well as working in such diverse industries as academic and market research, advertising and publishing, and education. Pyskoty loves research and data, and she loves helping her community thrive. Her office is in Albuquerque, and her home is in Tijeras where she lives with her husband. Charlene is on both sides of her district every day and appreciates the geographic and demographic diversity of District 5.
Bernalillo County Vice Chair Charlene Pyskoty submitted the below guest column for publication on this blog:
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are those of County Commissioner Pyskoty and do not necessarily reflect those of the political blog www.petedinelli.com. Commissioner Pyskoty has not been compensated for her column).
“On March 17, 2020, I convened an Emergency Meeting of the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners for the purpose of declaring Bernalillo County an emergency area due to the Covid-19 pandemic and allowing the County Manager, Julie Morgas Baca, emergency powers to act swiftly in a crisis situation. On that date, there were 14 cases of Covid-19 in Bernalillo County.
A news reporter asked me after the meeting if I had acted too quickly in calling the meeting, if I was overreacting to something that would turn out to be nothing. I responded that I hoped that would prove to be the case. I would have been happy to be wrong, but, as a public health professional, the numbers were trending upward and community spread seemed inevitable.
As I write this, on December 29, 2020, Bernalillo County has reported 40,038 total cases, and New Mexico has experienced 2,403 deaths attributed to Covid-19, with 139,875 cases statewide.
Since that day in March when a public health emergency was declared, Bernalillo County has worked tirelessly to stop the spread of Covid-19, as well as keeping life as normal as possible for our residents.
Bernalillo County took the lead in distributing PPE and creating safe environments for our essential workers. We worked continuously to protect MDC inmates and staff from infection. We worked with APS to provide food, childcare, and meaningful learning experiences for students.
Staff from our Fire Department were deployed throughout the state of New Mexico to train assisted-living facilities on Covid-safe practices. Bernalillo County worked with the State of New Mexico to distribute meals to senior citizens and to provide Covid testing to the public. We worked with other teams and agencies to get clean water and food to the people of To’Hajiilee, which culminated in the agreement to build a pipeline for plentiful, potable water to this part of the Navajo Nation in far-western Bernalillo County.
With our CARES Grant allocation of nearly $32 million, we supported small businesses with grants for basic expenses and for materials to expand outdoor dining and other resources to continue Covid-safe operations. Grants were given to mental health providers, non-profits, employees, and people who just needed to make ends meet.
We kept the county running with the provision of essential services, collected property taxes, and ran safe and secure elections that have withstood lawsuits, challenges, and audits.
Our first responders continued to work, day in and day out, keeping residents safe. Building permits got issued, trash services continued, and marriage licenses brought couples together for better or worse during the most unprecedented time of our lives.
Under the direction of our County Manager, all employees who were able to work remotely, worked from home. Our IT department made sure we were all equipped with internet access, and our media gurus and administrative staff made sure our Zoom meetings complied with laws regarding public access and input to open meetings.
During the past year, our County employees have been busy. There have been no layoffs, and each employee has earned their paycheck performing their usual duties, or temporarily working in a Covid-related position, like managing our wellness hotels for homeless families. I think we have worked harder this year than ever before, maintaining our usual jobs, plus the added duties related to Covid.
For my part, my assistants and I helped hand out grab-n-go lunches and masks at community centers and strip malls in my district. We helped sanitize voting booths on election day. I spearheaded communications on safety tips for grocery stores. I initiated the placement of APS Wi-Fi buses at the community centers in the East Mountains to help provide reliable internet access.
I’ve been working on developing housing assistance for those in need and I’ve supported many initiatives for putting CARES money into the physical, mental, and economic health of our communities and our small businesses.
We at the County look forward to facilitating the Covid vaccine to our residents. We look forward to gathering once again as a community. We look forward to a renewed economy, with a new appreciation for our small businesses, restaurants, and entertainment.
Next year, our new facilities at Alvarado Square will open, our lovely Tiny Home Village will be a thriving community, and new businesses like Amazon and NM Fresh Foods will be contributing jobs and money to our economy. Who knows? Kirtland might even have a Space Force!
Please do your part to make 2021 a year that we can truly celebrate. Wear your mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, stay home if you can, and take the vaccine when it is available. I wish you and yours a very happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous new year. Cheers!”
Charlene Pyskoty, MPH, LPCC
Bernalillo County Commissioner, District 5
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The Covid 19 pandemic is not the only major health crisis that the County Commission is dealing with and where Commissioner Pyskoty back ground will come in handy.
Studies suggest that nearly 50% of Bernalillo County residents needing mental health or addiction treatment services are not getting the help they need because of gaps in New Mexico’s behavioral health care. Untreated behavioral health conditions have led to increased and sometimes tragic interactions with law enforcement, over incarceration, overuse of hospital emergency and inpatient services, and unnecessary suffering on the part of patients and their families.
On February 26, 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a 1/8% gross receipts tax increase on a 3-2 vote to fund new behavioral and mental health services to improve access to mental and behavioral health care services in the county. The tax generates approximately $20 million annually.
The 1/8th% gross receipts tax was enacted to be used for the purpose of providing more mental and behavioral health services for adults and children in the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County area. The intent is to provide a safety net system for those in need of mental health not otherwise funded in New Mexico.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty’s experience in public health no doubt comes at a critical time as the county decides how to deal with the Covid Pandemic but the mental health and addiction treatment services.