Northern Rivers streamlines a fragmented mental health system – Times Union

Posted: November 14, 2019 at 2:51 am

This post was added by Alex Diaz-Granados

Living space inside the new $10 million Behavioral Health Care Center at Northern Rivers Family of Services on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Living space inside the new $10 million Behavioral Health Care Center at Northern Rivers Family of Services on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Photo: Will Waldron, Albany Times Union

Living space inside the new $10 million Behavioral Health Care Center at Northern Rivers Family of Services on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Living space inside the new $10 million Behavioral Health Care Center at Northern Rivers Family of Services on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

Northern Rivers streamlines a fragmented mental health system

ALBANY Sounds of construction are the new normal at Northern Rivers sprawling campus in Albany, but youd be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining.

Thats because its been at least two decades since any new construction or substantial renovation has occurred on campus, where children and families from around the region come to receive counseling, care and guidance after trauma be that a sudden loss, attempted suicide, sexual or physical abuse, a parent going to jail or an ongoing battle with mental illness.

These original buildings were built in 1965 and have never been empty, CEO Bill Gettman said on a recent tour of campus as he eyed a residential center for kids slated to come down next year. Not a day has gone by without kids in there. Theyre pretty beaten up to say the least.

Though work on a brand new $10 million behavioral health care center wrapped in August, construction remains underway on a new residential treatment center for kids who are deemed unsafe at home. The projects which together cost $15 million and are funded through grants, fundraising and loans represent a change in the way Northern Rivers hopes to deliver care.

The behavioral health care center, which celebrated its grand opening in September, is at the center of that change. Designed to be a one-stop shop for children and families in crisis, the 25,000-square-foot facility houses a variety of programs that previously had their own locations, intake protocols and electronic health records.

The vision for this building was innovation, Gettman said. Instead of going to five different doctors offices and telling your story five different times, well be able to treat you holistically and safely in one place.

Anyone whos experienced a mental or behavioral health crisis knows the game the shuttling from emergency room to doctors office to psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist; the telling and retelling of the trauma that brought you there in the first place.

At Northern Rivers new center, all these providers and services, with the exception of the ER, are under one roof. The hope is that this will lend a continuity of care to the services and make the process less onerous on families.

Because ERs are overused for both physical and mental health problems, the agency set out to create a place at its new center where children experiencing acute stress or psychiatric issues can come to be stabilized. The short-term crisis stabilization unit is only for those kids who present no risk of self harm, and comes with overnight accommodations in a 24/7 staff-secured treatment setting.

Our mobile crisis team goes to the home and they may decide that a kid doesnt need a hospital but could use this level of overnight stay, COO Audrey LaFrenier said. Then theyll work with the family to get them back home. Thats the goal. Thats always the goal.

Sometimes, a child needs care so intense and frequent that they will wind up in Northern Rivers residential treatment facility, which is also now housed within the center. Kids who are suicidal or have severe depression and mental health problems often require round-the-clock observation, and the facility has licensed staff who can provide this and other services.

The average stay for these longer-term placements is nine months, Gettman said.

That numbers gone down, which is good, he said. The longer kids stay, the worse their outcomes.

Northern Rivers has a presence in one form or another in 41 counties throughout the state, but the bulk of its services are in the Capital Region.

The behavioral health center in Albany is now its fourth such center, with other facilities in Colonie, Schenectady and Malta. Another is expected to open in Glens Falls early next year, pending state approval. But the Albany center is the only one with a residential component, and is also unique for its offering of primary care a service not commonly found at mental health clinics.

Its one less place that families have to go to get help for their kids, LaFrenier said.

Northern Rivers is planning to add addiction services to its behavioral health centers a missing component of its current suite of wrap-around services given the large overlap between mental health and substance abuse issues.

Once the residential treatment center is complete next year, the old one will be torn down. It will come fitted with modern security features such as those seen at the new behavioral health center safety screws in the furniture, door sensors that can detect weight, and cordless blinds.

Kids have some very impulsive behaviors and we need to make sure theyre safe, Gettman said.

On the day of his recent tour, kids were both outgoing and withdrawn. Some asked Gettman how he was doing, if he was going to the upcoming Halloween dance, while he asked them how school went that day or whether they always kept their rooms this clean.

I think were showing them we care, we believe in you, when we invest in these spaces, he said. I think that goes a long way.

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Northern Rivers streamlines a fragmented mental health system - Times Union

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