A New York state assemblyman from Queens was in Dutchess County Wednesday to learn more about a center that provides professional help for residents dealing with mental health, substance use and other issues. It’s the only such facility of its kind in the state and one that lawmakers say should be replicated.
Dutchess County Stabilization Center Director Beth Alter led the tour, showing lawmakers the room where staffers answer calls from its Help Line. Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro hosted Democratic state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi for the tour of the 24/7 walk-in facility.
“We think that Dutchess County has model that can be replicated effectively in other parts of the state wherein we’re really getting the core value of every human being, that we’re focusing on their mental health, their physical, their social needs, and trying to get them to the long-term support necessary so they can live a more independent life,” says Molinaro. “And that, for us, has not only been making a great difference here in Dutchess but we believe is a good model statewide.”
Molinaro says the Stabilization Center is a key component in Dutchess County’s initiatives to combat the opioid crisis, break the stigma of addiction and mental illness and divert those individuals from both the criminal justice system and overcrowded emergency rooms. Though not an exact fit for the larger Queens area, Hevesi, who chairs the Assembly’s Social Services Committee, says there are plenty of counties in the state that could benefit from a comparable model. Democratic Hudson Valley Assemblymember Didi Barrett joined Hevesi at the center.
“I have always felt that the silos that Andy was referring to is one of the biggest obstacles to getting anything done. If you have a Vietnam vet who’s suffering from PTSD, who’s homeless, who has medical issues, who has substance abuse issues, that’s five different agencies that that person has to negotiate in order to get the help that he or she needs, and probably he if it’s a Vietnam vet,” Barrett says. “We, we’re looking at a model here where you circumvent all that and you start addressing those things in a way that you’re people-centered and focused on the needs of people. And I think that’s what’s so extraordinary about this.”
“And also, plus the unfairness to the facility, who has to reimburse and get funded from all these different agencies. That’s an unsustainable model. And, by the way, how much time are they spending when they could be caring for individuals trying to bill to get reimbursed so they stay afloat,” Hevesi says. “It’s just not a good model for a sustainable project like this.”
Director Alter says the center’s success comes from its community partnerships, and many partners were on hand to meet with the lawmakers ahead of the tour. Alter says awareness about the center results in more people using its services.
“So we opened on February 13, 2017. For the first 10 ½ months, we had 1,875 visits to the center,” Alter says. “Our goal was to exceed 3,000 for year two, and we did. We had 3,006 visits.”
“I wish that more people knew that we were here and that we could really respond to the needs of more folks,” says Alter. “My goal for 2019 is that we exceed 4,000 visits.”
Hevesi discussed how to secure more state funding for the center, to render it more sustainable.
“What do you think you can get them?” Dunne asks.
“Come ask me in a month or two and I’ll come back at you but, yes, we’re going to start thinking about how to help this facility,” says Hevesi.
“And create a model for other counties,” says Barrett. “I think that is the, that is the key here because this is, the whole notion of having a center that is doing the right kind of work is something that’s replicable and we want to make sure that happens because that will help the rest of the state.”
“We’re seeing more folks with substance-use disorders come in,” Alter says. “And that’s what we want. We want people to come and start their recovery with us.”
“And by substance, can you break it down?” asks Dunne.
“So, about, maybe 15-to-18 percent are opiate users, and then alcohol and then other substance users,” says Alter. “But what’s most important to us is that people who are struggling and trying to decide how they want to start their recovery, that they know they can walk in, no judgement, it’s a judgement free zone, you can come in and you can start your recovery. And if today’s not the day, we’re still going to be here tomorrow and we will welcome you. The day that you’re ready to start your recovery, we’ll be here to receive you.”
“We just got money from OASAS so we’re going to have a licensed prescriber here,” Alter says. “And my goal is to be able to have anybody walk in and get started on medication assisted treatment in real time,” Alter says.
“Wow,” says Hevesi.
“We’re rolling something similar out near-term at the jail,” Molinaro says.
Molinaro says offering this service at the county jail would be a first in the state, apart from Riker’s Island. Alter says the center’s launch of medication assisted treatment is imminent. OASAS is the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.
Meantime, Westchester County is moving to establish its first crisis stabilization center. The center is set to open in White Plains and is modeled after Dutchess County’s Stabilization Center.