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Behavioral health services still available

Press-Republican - 3/21/2020

Mar. 21--PLATTSBURGH -- As non-essential businesses and organizations close to help minimize the spread of COVID-19, behavioral health clinics remain available to help current and future clients.

Those who struggle with substance use disorder and/or mental illness need constant outreach and engagement, Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Richelle Gregory said.

"It's important that these populations are taken care of because it contributes to the health of our overall society."


Gregory said earlier that the clinic's rooms were large enough to ensure proper social distancing if people need face-to-face interaction to accommodate their behavioral health needs.

The recent 50 percent reduction in staffing translates to half of the client population not being seen as regularly as they normally would, she continued.

"When you change any services drastically to remote services, there are a lot of nuances that you have to work with, so it doesn't always go as smoothly as you like and services do get interrupted."

Some clients may not regularly answer their phones, change numbers or have full mailboxes, making them harder to reach.

Cleaning staff at the clinic are disinfecting regularly touched surfaces like door knobs and light switches a couple times a day, Gregory said.

Additionally, masks and hand sanitizer have been made available for staff.

Those with symptoms are asked not to go into the building and instead call to be connected with a counselor.


Gregory said she did not think there has been enough of a focus on the populations served by CCMH during the COVID-19 response; these people's needs tend to go into the background when more immediate concerns arise.

"Although I understand the urgency and emergency, we can't lose the long-term goal that, when this is over, we still have populations that need caring for and need to utilize resources."

Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services, located at 130 Arizona Ave. in Plattsburgh, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

People can also call the clinic at 518-565-4060.


At Champlain Valley Family Center for Drug Treatment and Youth Services Inc.'s outpatient clinic, counselors and clients are able to abide by social distancing requirements by rearranging offices and setting up group rooms in a certain way, CEO Connie Wille said.

Counselors are additionally educating clients about precautions they can and should be taking for themselves and their families.

Cleaning takes place at the clinic each night, and they have added extra cleanings throughout the day due to COVID-19 concerns.

And everyone who utilizes any of CVFC's services is being screened prior to signing in.

"We have ramped that up for all of our services throughout the system: outpatient, peer engagement, the Recovery Campus up in Schuyler Falls," Wille said.

CVFC applied for and was granted a waiver for telephonic counseling.

"We are meeting clients both face-to-face and in some cases telephonically. But we're going to provide the service that best meets the needs of the clients."


Wille was relieved when she received an order from the State Office of Addiction Services and Supports that residential and community-based providers licensed by that agency were considered essential.

"My concern was what would happen if we weren't considered an essential business because my fear would be that the progress we've made with the opiate epidemic would be wiped out.

Not just the opiate epidemic, but with substance use disorder in general."

Providers also help people with social determinants of health, like housing and connections to primary care, she added.

Wille would invite anyone who wants or thinks they need help to walk into the clinic, located at 20 Ampersand Dr. in Plattsburgh, or call 518-561-8480.

"We've got the support services in place, we've got the clinical services piece in place. We do a tremendous amount of problem-solving with folks day by day."


At MHAB Life Skills Campus, a transitional housing facility for people in recovery, they are trying to find the best ways to work around the requirements for isolation, founder and The Northeast Group President Michael Carpenter said.

"We continue to talk about social distancing and isolation and it is what we have to do for the COVID virus, but it flies directly against what we tell these people when they come into recovery early on."

Since the CVFC All Ways to Recovery Community Center next door to MHAB closed until further notice Wednesday, the housing facility has started offering some meetings in its dining hall, where social distancing can be maintained.

They are also looking into ways to connect virtually or talking to people outside.

MHAB is following federal, state and county public health guidance, practicing good hygiene, having a cleaning crew disinfect communal areas and commonly-touched surfaces three times a day and leaving out bleach wipes for people to use as much as possible.


Carpenter is concerned that addiction, recovery and mental health are getting forgotten during this crisis.

Though these people may not be deemed vulnerable to the virus due to their age, they are still vulnerable due to their lifestyles, he continued.

"Relapse becomes more prevalent, harm to themselves becomes more prevalent when they begin to get scared and don't have the people and the resources to go to."

But the MHAB residents have incredibly positive attitudes, Carpenter said. He noted one man with a truck who has offered rides to the grocery store to help people get what they need.

"There's a lot of camaraderie over there and people trying to help each other out and that's inspiring to me."

Carpenter would advise people in recovery to stay connected as much as possible.

"Stay connected to the people that you trust and love because that's the answer to alleviating the anxiety and the fear and those kinds of things.

It doesn't stop the virus but it at least gives you peace of mind enough to know that you can get through the day. "

Email Cara Chapman:

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman


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