Ellis Medicine To Open Expanded Mental Health Clinic For Kids In Schenectady

Ellis Medicine is opening a new mental health clinic for children and adolescents in Schenectady, New York.

The $1.5 million clinic opening Monday relocates the network’s mental health services for kids and teens from the McClellan Street Health Center to a larger space next to the adult facility at the State Street Health Center. Ellis officials say they’ve planned to bring the two outpatient clinics together for years – but the timing is apt. Mental Health Service Line Director Lin Murray says, like adults, kids have been struggling during the pandemic.

“Currently, hospital systems in the Capital Region and across New York state are reporting an increase in emergency department and in-patient hospital utilization for this population. This relocation allows Ellis Child and Adolescent Treatment Services to expand our services to meet the community need, with the addition of four new providers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 1 in 5 kids suffers from a mental disorder. Even before the pandemic, Ellis had a 60-80 kid waitlist – about six months to a year – for its mental health services. The new clinic nearly doubles the capacity of its predecessor, at roughly 4,000-square-feet, and is seen as crucial for bringing in additional staff and cutting that wait.  

Practice Administrator Christina Moran and Operations and Safety Manager Taylor Mickle say the clinic was meticulously planned to address the sometimes serious situations faced by its patients, and to ensure patient safety. The youth space is isolated from the adult facility with a locked door and a separate entrance at the rear of the building. Mickle says the bathroom is located in plain view of the front desks, so staff can monitor who goes in and comes out.

“If you look in these bathrooms, they are made to be ligature resistant, which means that they are safe for patients when they’re in there alone — there’s no tie-off points. It’s not a requirement for outpatient facilities, but to us it’s very important for our safety, for our patients, and for our staff, to know that they’re safe in there,” Mickle explains. “This is the only place that the kids can be alone in, so that’s why it’s such an important spot for us.” 

“Kids tend to, when they don’t want to talk about things, they tend to play in the bathroom,” Moran adds. “So it’s nice for us to be able to see them, and know what’s going on, and still have eyes to address anything.” 

Moran says the space is also meant to put patients at ease. You’ll find plenty of natural light and brightly colored paintings in the front lobby, including a sensory mural and bubble machine. An interactive smart projector helps keep sessions both fun and accessible, while a large room and closet are reserved for play therapy, in which kids can express themselves through an array of toys curated to their specific situation. 

“If there’s maybe some family issues that you’re addressing, you might pull the doll house and the family so that they can kind of play and interact those things out,” Moran explains. “It really varies depending on the child and what your focus of your treatment is.” 

“So that’s why we needed so much space. We needed to keep everything in [the closet]. We can’t leave it all out there and have it be overstimulating for a patient,” Mickle notes. 

A sizeable crowd and a number of local and state officials – many masked – came to cut the ribbon on the new facility Tuesday. Democratic State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara of the 111th district says the clinic couldn’t have come at a better time (four years to the day from the opening of the adult space), and he’s happy to see a focus on kids’ needs during the pandemic. 

“Children and teens should be spending time with their friends, preparing for their future, engaging in after-school sports and activities and making memories that just last them a lifetime – but a lot of kids have been stripped of that over the past year, they’ve lost a lot of that. And as a result we’ve seen an increase in young patients coming forward now with mental health conditions,” says Santabarbara. “It’s something very real, it’s something we have to address, and that’s what Ellis is doing here. Our young people need our support more than ever.”

The network’s inpatient mental health facility is still at Ellis Hospital on Nott Street. The new youth clinic serves kids and teens across 31 counties.