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Recovery tied to solid housing and transportation access, mental health official says

By Joanne Beck

It’s hard enough battling mental health issues and opioid addiction, let alone trying to do so without a solid and safe place to live or a way to get around for wellness appointments and necessary travel, Lynda Battaglia says.

The Genesee County Mental Health director talked about those obstacles as she made some related requests for funding to the county’s Human Services Committee Tuesday.

The number of deaths from opioid overdoses has risen from 15.6 per 100,000 in 2021 to 27.8 per 100,000 in Genesee County, she said.

Lynda Battaglia

“We’re just seeing this increased pattern,” she said during Tuesday’s committee meeting. “And they’re highly addictive. You have the pharmaceutical ones that are prescribed and approved by the FDA, like oxycontin, and then you have the ones that are created on the streets and are illegal, and the overdose rate is just increasing across the state. Housing is one of those areas that if you can have stable housing, that is a social determinant of health.

“So when you think about ‘what do I need in order to just have a healthy life,’ housing is a top priority because when you can establish some housing, other things start to fall in place. When you don’t have housing, then you are in dire straits; you’re roaming the streets, you’re couch-surfing, you are going from friend to friend, if you have friends, or you’re going to areas or environments that have high usage. And the temptation is always there.”

And if you’re also trying to recover, that’s a setup to fail, she said. Genesee Orleans Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse has requested $100,000 for housing to help people with that needed step, plus funding for harm reduction, prevention services and public awareness. 

“I do believe it is extremely needed for Genesee County,” Battaglia said. 

The Mental Health Department brought a request to the county committee members with allocated state Office of Addiction Services and Supports grant funding available. Human Services approved the request of $130,000 and will pass that on to the Ways and Means Committee before it goes for a final vote by the county Legislature. 

There will be no budget impact for the county because the state OASAS funding will cover the amount. 

Battaglia also requested $95,907 on behalf of Horizon Health Services for treatment ($75,000), public awareness ($6,332), and transportation ($2,500) costs to assist Genesee County residents with their mental health needs.

“This is specific for Genesee County as well, for the residents of Genesee County at their satellite office, located just outside of town here. This was reviewed by the community services board. They are a duly licensed clinic,” she said. “So they provide mental health services and support services. So they don't typically receive state aid through my office. But this was a good opportunity for them to just get above and beyond what they need in order to provide services to the community.”

She was asked if the requested funding for transportation was enough to meet program users’ needs.

“It's hard to say. Transportation is just another barrier, I think, for individuals to access services across the board. It's not just support. And it's not just mental health, it's medical care as well. So is $2,500 enough? Probably not. But we'll see what happens with the 2,500 when we look at next year's funding because this is going to be the same process from year to year. Everybody's going to have to resubmit,” Battaglia said. “And if the need for transportation increases, then the funding could increase as well. I guess we'll just have to see. I also didn't want to allocate too much to it.”

The committee also approved this request and passed it on to Ways & Means and the county Legislature for a final vote.

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