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County Prioritizes Mental Health & Substance Use Services

County Prioritizes Mental Health & Substance Use Services

SUBHEAD:                          Co-Responder Team Debuts; New Site for Crisis Stabilization Center


By Holly Crocco

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it is appropriate that the Putnam County Legislature was recently updated on measures to increase mental health and substance use services locally.

The county’s new Co-Responder Team hit the ground running this year, with the help of Putnam’s first dual recovery coordinator, Lauren Johnson, who left the Prevention Council of Putnam to join the Department of Mental Health

“The dual recovery role is a brand new position here in Putnam County,” explained Johnson at the April 17 meeting of the county’s Health Committee. “It is focused on the integration of mental health and substance use, both at a system level, as well as a consumer level, providing support and education to providers and businesses on how to provide services to those who are diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder – somebody with a mental health and a substance use disorder – as well as providing support and services to families and to individuals.”

Department of Social Services Commissioner Sara Servadio said her office has been working with law enforcement in responding to cases that involve a mental health matter.

“We’ve started to identify individuals where the call for service may have involved substance use, so Lauren is essentially co-responding with the Co-Response Team,” she said.

Legislator Amy Sayegh, R-Mahopac Falls, chairwoman of the health committee, said the community will only benefit from this type of support.

“I’m excited about this position – I think it’s needed,” she said. “Most people, if they have a substance abuse problem, that started for a reason because they had a mental health situation that they wanted to medicate, or forget. So I think it’s so important in recognizing that… (treating) the whole person.”

The county’s new Dual Responder Team has been up and running since February, created with grant funding bestowed to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve been very busy… and it just seems to be getting busier,” said team member TJ Ward, who is a combat veteran. “It’s a very good program.”

Since the program kicked off three months ago, there has been 125 “engagements.”

“Of the 125 people that have been engaged, only 25 have ended up in an inpatient psychiatric unit, so it’s a significant amount of people that essentially they’re providing case management for, and family support,” said Servadio.

And the team is getting better at identifying people in need this type of response, so most 911 dispatches can be handled as two crisis calls. This means law enforcement can address any immediate danger, while the Co-Responder Team and dual recovery coordinator can help someone experiencing the more complicated issue of a mental health challenge or substance use problem, by connecting them with extended services.

Legislator Bill Gouldman, R-Putnam Valley, expressed full support for the initiative. “It is needed. I know that, and I’m glad we have it and it’s become effective,” he said.

Putnam is also pushing forward with creating a stabilization center to address people with mental health needs, including addiction, social isolation, trauma, housing instability, suicidal thoughts, and other detriments.

According to County Executive Kevin Byrne, a new location for the center has been selected, at 1071 Stoneleigh Ave., Carmel – not far from Putnam Hospital.

“It’s an excellent location,” he said. “I believe it provides a close proximity to a number of facilities and spaces that it complements, and should be very much welcome as a new tenant in the community, and the building.”

Discussions of creating a stabilization center in Putnam began in spring 2022, when the previous administration said it would commit $2.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to support the cause.

“We are facing a behavioral health crisis in our country, and addressing this locally is imperative,” said Sayegh.

She said the center will be 100 percent voluntary, in which adults, children and families can get help for up to 24 hours – either walking in on their own or being brought in by EMS or law enforcement. It will be a non-clinical facility where patients can connect with counselors, psychiatrists, care managers and other specialists.

“The purpose is to create a 24/7 community crisis hub where people of all ages can connect with an array of health care professionals and services providers,” said Sayegh.

In July, the County Legislature voted to commit the $2.5 million in ARPA funds to partner with PeopleUSA to develop the center at a location at 2505 Carmel Avenue (Route 6 – near JNR Pharmacy). However, that plan fell through.

“After the Southeast location did not work out, we immediately – that week – started looking for new sites in the county,” explained Servadio, who said the building on Stoneleigh Avenue is an ideal location.

Steve Miccio, president of PeopleUSA, said the location will allow for a dedicated space for youth, as well as an entry for law enforcement to drop off patients that is separate from those who walk in on their own accord.

“It’s just the perfect scenario and will work well for the county and work well for us,” he said.

According to Miccio, a contract is in the works to rent the space. “We stand at the ready to move forward,” he said.

Servadio noted that the new recovery center aligns well with the Co-Responder Team and dual recovery coordinator position.

“We see them working very cohesively – coupled with our to-be-established mobile crisis team that PeopleUSA will be running,” she said. “The Co-Responder Team will be in the community and will be bring people into the crisis center.”

Legislator Ginny Nacerino, R-Patterson, said she is happy to see the center moving forward with another location.

“We know from all our past discussions under (former DSS Commissioner) Mike Piazza, and with Sara, how many times we talk about our youth sitting in Putnam Hospital, in the ER, hours and hours, only to be released,” she said. “We are doing such an injustice to our youth. We need these resources, and I certainly hope and expect this will come to fruition.”

Legislator Tony Addonizio, R-Kent, agreed.

“I’m in total support of this – it’s so needed,” she said. “In this day and age, the stigma that’s attached (to mental health), it amazes me.”

Putnam County will host a Mental Health Forum on May 21 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Bureau of Emergency Services, 112 Old Route 6, Carmel. Key areas of focus will include intentional language and person-centered care, and strengths-based services. The event is open to all, and registration is required, at


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