SCHENECTADY — Ellis Medicine’s new mental health clinic for children and teens will start seeing patients Monday.
The $1.5 million child, adolescent and family mental health center is co-located with Ellis’ adult mental health services in the State Street Health Center at 1023 State St. and replaces a smaller clinic on Ellis’ McClellan Street campus.
Officials and dignitaries cut the ribbon Tuesday and said its opening is timely: The lack of space has for years resulted in a long waiting list for treatment but the need for treatment has grown in the COVID era.
“It’s had a really huge impact,” said Dr. Christopher Burky, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is chair of psychiatry at Ellis. “Kids are social animals, part of their development involves being in school, interacting with adults, interacting with other kids. And we’ve had a situation where they’re isolated at home.”
Ellis CEO Paul Milton said the new facility fulfills the hospital’s original vision of gathering all outpatient mental health care at one location, with integrated primary care on-site.
The inpatient unit remains at Ellis Hospital on Nott Street.
“Ellis has had a very long and a very proud history in the mental health area, taking care of our community,” Milton said. “There’s no question that with the pandemic it put an extra light on this.”
Ellis Mental Health provides treatment for children, teens and young adults ages 4 to 21 from 31 counties.
Neil Golub, who is leading the capital campaign that helped pay for Ellis’ new children’s clinic, said attention drawn in the past year to tragic interactions between police and mentally troubled people shows the need for greater understanding by police of mental illness and the need for additional options for the patients themselves.
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford and Lt. Ryan Macherone attended the ribbon-cutting Tuesday and said afterward that the department has worked to develop additional options for its officers.
A substantial portion of the calls the department fields involve mental health. Macherone, who has done some statistical analysis, said roughly 17,000 to 19,000 of the 80,000 to 90,000 calls the department receives each year involve mental health issues ranging from suicidal thoughts to just needing someone to talk to. “So it really does really run the gamut,” he said.
“We’ve been integrating a few other approaches as well,” Clifford said. Northern Rivers can send a mobile crisis unit to help evaluate the patient’s needs and suggest the best response; if need be, the person will be transported to Ellis.
“Certainly Ellis has been a dedicated partner of ours for a very long time now, and we do use their services quite a bit,” he said.
The new facility features a play therapy room, a sensory mural with working piano keys in the waiting area and an interactive projector system for therapy purposes.
The building is designed to be bright, calming and welcoming, but its design also takes into account the serious problems some of the young patients carry with them.
The adult and children’s treatment areas are separated by a locked door, for example, and the bathrooms — the only place where the children can’t be visually monitored — are specifically designed so that there’s nowhere a suicidal youth could attach a noose or ligature, not even a doorknob.
Burky said they do see suicidal thoughts among their patients, especially during the pandemic.
“We’ve had a situation where they’re isolated at home and we’ve seen substantial increase in kids coming in with depression, with anxiety, additional trauma with challenged families and higher incidence of suicide and suicide attempts,” he said.
The six- to eight-month wait list for treatment might seem dangerous when suicidal patients are placed on it, but Burky said they are singled out for treatment if possible.
“We do try to triage the referrals,” he said, “and kids with more acute needs, sometimes we can get in sooner. We can help people connect with their primary care doctors. Primary care clinics around here for the most part are really adept at helping out with straightforward depression or ADHD.”
Burky and practice administrator Christina Moran said the lack of space in the current location has prevented hiring additional personnel for patient treatment and case management. The new space will allow more staff to come aboard and more children to be treated, they added.
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