Ulster County’s Department of Mental Health maintains a call-in service called the Mobile Mental Health Team. Two teams, each consisting of a clinician and a peer “who has lived experience with behavioral mental health issues,” according to Tara McDonald, Deputy Commissioner of the department, are on call from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Typically, “a neighbor or family member will call the unit when there is a concern that a person is at risk of hurting themselves or others,” said McDonald. “The team will reach out to that person and do an assessment on the phone. If the person is at risk of hurting themselves or others, the team can order a 945, which allows the police to transport the person to the psychiatric ER.”
In most cases, which do not entail such risks, the team makes an assessment and refers the person to the hotline or textline of Family of Woodstock, which can help with a range of issues, including housing, domestic violence, and food insecurity, or one of five state-licensed mental health clinics in the county: Family Services, Inc., Astor Services for Children and Families, Institute for Family Health, Pine Grove Clinic, and Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center clinic. Another resource is Catholic Charities’ Center for Treatment Innovation, which helps people with substance-use abuse receive both long-term and short-term help with recovery. The county also has two clinics licensed by the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports: Step One and Bridge Back. Contact information for each clinic and a complete list of resources can be found at the following link for the Ulster County Department of Mental Health: https://ulstercountyny.gov/health/mental-health-department.
McDonald said that the Mobile Mental Health Team is increasing its capacity: while the two teams have been on call from noon to 10 p.m. and only one team on call from 10 a.m. to noon, the service will be expanded to a second team on call during the morning hours. Beginning in 2021, the Mobile Mental Health Team will also include a dispatcher at the 911 call center. According to McDonald, the dispatcher “will be a licensed clinician who will assist the 911 center operators in determining the appropriate intervention needed to respond to calls from individuals reporting on a behavioral-health-related issue. The dispatcher will have the capacity to triage calls utilizing the clinical assessment and if deemed appropriate, directly engage the Mobile Mental Health Team,” reducing visits by the police.
McDonald added that Ryan has been lobbying Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) / HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley for Westchester to return the 40 inpatient mental health beds that were moved from its facility in Kingston to Poughkeepsie back in April to make room for a potential regional Covid-19 specialized care center. Although the move was supposed to be temporary, Westchester Medical Center Health Network has not committed to restoring the beds after the pandemic and Ryan said representatives, have explicitly told him they don’t plan to. “The utilization rate for those beds over the past five years was 80 percent,” said McDonald, who noted that the populations of Greene and Delaware counties, which lack mental-health beds, also relied on the unit. “We hear repeatedly [the beds] are just 20 miles away, but that could be a 45-minute or hour-long drive. You’re disconnected from the services.”