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County Mental Health

Services to area youth discussed at Systems of Care Summit

By Howard B. Owens

Traci Russo, a juvenile case supervisor with the county's Probation Department, speaks about options for helping troubled youths during the Systems of Care Summit at Terry Hills on Tuesday morning.

The event was hosted by Genesee County Mental Health.

Lynda Battaglia was the featured speaker and there were three panels of professionals in the area's agencies that deliver mental health-related services and other services for children in the community.

Grant of $1.4 million to support student mental health in Batavia post-pandemic

By Press Release

Press Release

The Batavia City School District is proud to announce it has received $1.4M in grant funding from the New York State Office of Mental Health under the “Student Mental Health Support Grants to School Districts” program to assist with mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a national survey described in a recent publication of Pediatrics: An Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted both parent’s and children's mental health. The need to address the emotional and psychological wellbeing of children has never been more important.”

New York State’s Office of Mental Health announced the grants in March of 2022 specifically developed for public school students, families, faculty, and staff with the purpose of “improving access to mental health resources, support students who have experienced stress, anxiety and/or trauma, and to support the adults that surround them.” 

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), “Research demonstrates that students who receive social-emotional and mental health support perform better academically.”

“This grant will provide much-needed assistance to our students and staff,” said Superintendent Jason Smith. “We are still evaluating the learning loss associated with the past two years of the pandemic, but it’s safe to say it’s had an extraordinary impact on our students’ mental health. We thank the Office of Mental Health for prioritizing students in our state and will certainly put these funds to good use.” 

According to the grant information, “The expectation is that this enhancement will be utilized to address inequities and provide additional availability and access to the continuum of strategies and supports that address the mental health of students. The objectives of this grant include enhancing access to mental health services, implementing integrated mental health supports, and strengthening community partnerships.”

“The impact of the pandemic across all areas of our students' lives cannot be underestimated,” said Dr. Molly Corey, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “With grant programs like these, we can fill in the gaps with our curriculum, programming, and resources to make sure no student falls through the cracks and gets the support they need to be successful and get back on track.” 

BCSD’s plans for the funding are currently under review and will be announced to the community at a later date.


Mental Health director proposes hybrid psychiatry to fill a rural need

By Joanne Beck

After biding her time with a glaring vacancy, Mental Health and Community Services Director Lynda Battaglia broached the topic during Tuesday’s Human Services meeting.

“So this is one that I've talked about for well over a year now, and it's finally time to bring this one forward. This is a creation of a full-time, Genesee County psychiatrist position for the Department of Mental Health. There's no doubt that this is a bigger ask, considering the salary. But it's a specialized service. And it's definitely something that's needed within the department,” Battaglia said to the group of committee members. “Right now, our wait time for somebody to get in with a psychiatrist is about six weeks. And that's when we have all of our providers. I'd like to create this position so that it benefits the community, and it benefits the clients that need to get access to provider treatments. I have to think about stability within the department as well as future planning and longevity for psychiatry.”

She requested an amendment to the 2022 management salary schedule to create one full-time staff psychiatrist (Community Mental Health) position at a base salary range of $292,500 to $331,500. That would mean an estimated salary of between $73,125 and $82,872 for the remainder of the year’s last quarter, at a fee of $150 to $170 per hour.

Fringe benefits would add up to about $21,000 more, for a quarter total of up to $103,814, according to the resolution. Battaglia doesn’t expect these costs to impact the existing 2022 budget, considering the unstaffed positions within the Mental Health Department.

There are four clinical positions and three in the finance area that have been vacant, she said. It may not be an easy job to recruit a psychiatrist to a rural area, but it would certainly add some consistency to the department, she said.

“For the last three years, we've worked with an agency to provide us with services. And that has been helpful, it has definitely been a Band-Aid and has helped fill the gap. However, in the three years, I've had my third psychiatrist. And you think about a person that comes through mental health for services, you're taking a risk every time you have a doctor that's providing the telehealth services. And if it doesn't work out, then I'm bringing in a new psychiatrist. And if that one doesn't work out, I'm bringing in another one,” she said.

“And the agency that I've gone through has been absolutely tremendous," she added. "They’re very accommodating, with excellent communication. The doctor has to be the right fit. And so to have one client have to work with three different doctors over the course of their treatment, it's very challenging, and it's frustrating the clients.”

An upside is that the position could generate revenue and potentially become self-sustaining and not cost the county additional money, she said. It could also reduce the wait time from six to three weeks, which still isn’t ideal, but “if we can cut it in half,” that’s an improvement.

Battaglia proposed creating the position as a hybrid, including in-person visits and telehealth appointments, as an incentive for the right person. She doesn’t want to offer 100 percent telehealth and feels that a hybrid model offers two options to deliver the service. That might better accommodate an applicant, and “we have clients and community members that like to do either way,” she said.

“I think for 2023, it would definitely save the county some money,” she said. “I feel like it’s a win-win all the way around.”

County Manager Matt Landers reiterated how Battaglia has been talking about this need “for quite some time.” Simply put, it sounds like a breakeven proposition, he said.

“Instead of contracting out, you're paying a county employee, and there’s potential for generating additional revenue — more billable hours — which would generate more revenue. Now we're not doing this to make money. And at the same time, if this ended up being a subsidized effort, but ended up providing better service to the community, again, it will be something that the manager's office would support,” he said. “Even going down this route and approving this, that's step one, and it's really going to be a challenge to find a qualified doctor willing to come to us, you know, rural counties have this difficulty. So, in general, I support the effort going forward, because it's not going to be budgetarily … negative to our county budget. And it's got the full support of mental health, but I think we can provide better service.”

Battaglia also requested a budget amendment to hire a full-time mental health financial program specialist position, which would cost $19,553.50 for the remainder of this year. There are funds available in the 2022 budget to cover this expense due to unstaffed positions within the department. This position for a full year will cost $78,214, according to the resolution.

The committee approved the requests, which will continue on the process for committee approval until they finally reach the Legislature for final adoption.

Photo: Lynda Battaglia, Director of Mental Health and Community Services. Photo from the county website.

County mental health director: Providers are finding it hard to meet the increased demand for services

By Mike Pettinella

If there’s one positive thing to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the overdue attention to the human services fields, especially the importance of mental health counseling and treatment.

That’s part of the message shared by Lynda Battaglia, Genesee County director of Mental Health & Community Services, in a phone interview with The Batavian.

“As a result of the pandemic, I think the mental health field has been recognized as essential. It's definitely received more recognition now than it ever has, and it's unfortunate that it took a pandemic to have that happen,” said Battaglia (photo above).

While there has been a renewed focus on mental health, substance use disorder, social services and developmental disabilities over the past two years, a by-product of that is the difficulty in finding qualified professionals to serve those in need.

According to information from LeaderStat, a national staffing agency for healthcare organizations, “The shortage of mental health care professionals coupled with the increased demand for services has led to a grim situation for many patients and providers, and there is no quick fix on the horizon.”

Projections by the Health Resources and Services Administration indicate the United States will need to add 10,000 providers by 2025 to close “the increasing divide” and more than half, over 24 million, of persons dealing with a mental health condition are going untreated and one in five adults seeking treatment is finding his or her needs unmet.

Battaglia said she is feeling a similar crunch in Genesee County as her department currently is not taking any new clients because she has five openings on her counseling staff.

“It's the times that we're in right now,” she said. “I do foresee things getting better. We are not currently taking brand new clients, but our Open Access (crisis walk-in) has remained open throughout the pandemic and remains open today.”

She said Genesee County Mental Health is at a “triaging stage” now.

“We’re taking individuals who are high need or high risk. We're really trying to triage people that call -- individuals that are being discharged from the hospital,” she advised.

Officials at other human services agencies, such as Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, also are reporting numerous job openings – from nurses to counselors to support staff.

Battaglia said she is hoping the staffing situation will get better in May and June “when we will get some clinical people who graduate with their master's in mental health counseling or social work who want to work here.”

“We do have a couple of prospective individuals who are looking to work here and have to go through that hiring process that we have here,” she said.

Currently, each of the dozen or so professionals employed at GCMH have a caseload of 90 to 110 patients.

“That’s high,” she said. “That’s not ideal, but that's what we have to work with. Our supervisors are working at high capacity and high caseloads in addition to providing supervision to staff. And that's not isolated to Genesee County Mental Health. That’s a trend across the state in regard to caseload capacity and (job) vacancies. So, my counterparts are feeling that, too.”

What that does is place additional stress on the counselors, Battaglia said.

“I have to applaud my staff. Their dedication and their resiliency and their ability to do this every day because the work in and of itself, can be challenging on a person in the field,” she said. “And then you couple that with a multitude of additional stressors -- family and all the hats that you wear and trying to put more individuals on your caseload and providing the services that you want to provide.”

Battaglia mentioned the mental health field carries a high rate of burnout.

“Self-care is essential to try to prevent burnout. There’s a lot of things that can help staff with burnout. But isolating during the pandemic was not helpful,” she explained.

“Now, with things opening up (from the COVID-19 restrictions), I can feel a shift in energy here with just more people being able to talk with one another. We still have to wear masks here, because we're considered a healthcare setting, but just the shift in energy of things being more open.”

Genesee County is advertising for positions in the department on its website and also on the Indeed worldwide employment site.

“We did two job fairs -- two virtual job fairs at two different points during the year and we had zero candidates,” she said. “That just speaks to kind of where we are in the times right now with a lot of things virtual. And there are some things like a job fair that's really challenging to do virtually.”

County committee supports transition from Continuing Day Treatment program to clinical mental health services

By Mike Pettinella

Societal and philosophical changes in mental health treatment are causing the expected closure of Genesee County Mental Health’s Continuing Day Treatment program, but department officials are providing assurances that no one in need of these services will “fall through the cracks.”

Bob Riccobono, director of clinical services, and Nancy Hendrickson, supervisor of the CDT, on Monday presented a resolution to the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee that calls for the elimination of CDT programming within the next few months.

Reinforced through research conducted by Lynda Battaglia, Mental Health & Community Services director, and supported by the county’s Community Services Board, Riccobono shared a brief history of CDT and some factors that entered into the decision to shift to more clinical and therapeutic outpatient programs.

“Back in the 1950s, clients were treated in hospitals, but then we developed medications to the point where clients could then be released and go back to the communities where they came from,” he said. “But the problem was that the communities that were receiving these mental health clients, they didn't have the resources available. So, the state was giving aid to all the counties to develop community mental health centers. And part of that was to create day treatment programs for the more severe mentally ill.”

He said these programs worked very well in tandem with community residences to house people with mental health issues.


“When I started my career back in the early 90s, we did all kinds of programs with the clients. We did camping trips, ceramics, woodworking – all kinds of different things like that. Then the state came and starting telling us you can't do those kinds of programs; it had to be more rehab-oriented,” he explained.

Those restrictions, combined with a decline in referrals from state hospitals, led to a decrease in the day treatment program population, he said, and because of that, “the funding dried up.”

“(Previously) it was the day treatment programs that were carrying the clinic. Now it's the exact opposite -- the clinic is carrying the day treatment program,” Riccobono said. “It’s not anything that the day treatment program is doing; that’s just how the funding is allocated.”

Riccobono said the state changed its philosophy – advocating for mental health clients to be integrated into the community. As a result, community residences closed and clients were treated in apartment programs or at their own apartments. Today, GCMH is just one of 13 agencies in New York with a CDT and most of them are downstate.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 – making it more difficult to coordinate group settings – the handwriting was on the wall, he said.

“That was sort of the final nail in the coffin because the past two years we couldn't do the same kind of treatment we were doing before,” he said.


The GCMH CDT program, prior to the pandemic, ran five days a week from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with clients coming in from one to five days, Hendrickson said.

“During that time, we were in group rooms where we sat very close to each other,” he said. “Clients milled around together in the hallways. When the pandemic happened, we had to maintain social distancing. And we are not able to accommodate it (very well) with social distancing in our buildings.”

Hendrickson said the state began reimbursing the department for daily phone calls made to clients, so the strategy changed to a combination of in-person and telephone sessions.

“Now, we have to talk to the clients in order to bill five days a week,” she said. “And groups are small. People can’t congregate in the hallways like they used to. We cannot serve lunch like we used to because of the lack of space and, primarily, the six foot distancing.”

Staffing is another issue, Riccobono said.

“The other thing that's going on is that I can’t hire clinical staff in the outpatient clinic. It’s that much harder to hire people to go into the day treatment program because most of them never heard of that,” he noted.


Going forward, the plan is to take four GCMH employees from the day treatment program and incorporate them into the outpatient clinic.

“So, most of your clients are going to remain with their therapist, and also be seeing the same psychiatrist that they're seeing in the day treatment program,” Riccobono said. “In addition to that, because we're going to have more staff available in the outpatient clinic, we're going to look at some different programs that we can do, such as an intensive outpatient program.”

He said a long-term approach hasn’t been finalized yet, but GCMH leaders are reaching out to other places that offer intensive outpatient services to see how they operate.

Legislator Gordon Dibble, who serves on the Community Services Board, said CDT “is just a program that seems like it just run its course.”

“And in the shutting down of the program, everything I’ve heard seems to be well thought out,” he said. “So, it's going to get done and get done right.”

Hendrickson said that no employee will lose their jobs. Two full-time therapists will move to the clinic with one of them assigned to develop the intensive outpatient program.


Riccobono emphasized that the state Office of Mental Health will not allow GCMH to close the program until every client has been placed and is seeing a therapist.

“No one is going to fall through the cracks,” he said.

The Human Services Committee voted in favor of the resolution, which indicates a loss of about $174,000 in anticipated state aid for CDT services. It also notes that staff reallocation will allow existing personnel expenses to be offset by Medicaid, Medicare and third-party insurance.

The resolution will be considered by the Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday.

Genesee County faces difficult situation when it comes to transporting persons dealing with mental health issues

By Mike Pettinella

Severe staffing shortages among emergency response units have Genesee County officials searching for the most effective ways to transport residents experiencing mental health episodes to qualified hospitals where they can receive the evaluation and treatment they need.

Tim Yaeger, Emergency Management Services coordinator, and Lynda Battaglia, director of Mental Health & Community Services, led an hour-long discussion via Zoom with county legislators and law enforcement personnel this afternoon about a severely compromised level of ambulance service in the county.

“Why this topic is even being discussed is because there's an EMS (Emergency Management Services) crisis in New York State,” Yaeger said. “We’re looking at counties that are really in a very much of a reactionary form to figure out what they're going to do because the EMS transporting capabilities of the commercial systems are diminished.”

Yaeger said counties across the state are searching for answers as they experience lengthy response times and situations where no ambulances are available at any given time.

“We can probably talk for a long time about it, but it really comes down to pay and work environment and working conditions of the EMS system. That’s why it’s in trouble,” he said.

Emphasizing that his responsibility is to make sure ambulances are there when “the citizens of this county” call for them, Yaeger said he has been talking at length with Battaglia, Mercy EMS and Le Roy Ambulance representatives and law enforcement agency leaders about how to handle mental health incidents that fall under New York Mental Hygiene Law 9.41 and 9.45.


Section 9.41 permits police officers and peace officers to facilitate emergency admissions for immediate observation, care and treatment for any person who appears to be mentally ill and is conducting himself or herself in a manner which is likely to result in serious harm to the person or others. Section 9.45 gives similar authority to directors of community services.

In both cases, transportation to specially designated health care facilities, such as Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, Erie County Medical Center or Wyoming County Community Hospital in Warsaw, likely is warranted.

So, the question facing Genesee County legislators is: Who should transport these individuals – emergency medical technicians (or paramedics) in ambulances, police officers (sheriff's deputies, Batavia PD, Le Roy PD) or – what currently is on the table – a combination of both?

With the number of ambulances on the road in Genesee County down from where it should be, Yaeger said he has been working with Mercy EMS to make sure it prioritizes service to Genesee residents.

“Counties outside of Genesee have been relying heavily on Mercy EMS to backfill their shortcomings, and have recently over the last five, six months, it got to a point that was just not manageable anymore,” he said. “So, we worked with Mercy and changed our policy from one ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulance to two ALS ambulances in service in this county before we will honor an out-of-county ambulance request.”

While the revised schedule is working right now, that doesn’t address the primary focus of today’s conversation – transporting of those in a mental health crisis.


Yaeger indicated that most surrounding counties use law enforcement personnel to drive the patients to the hospital, but Battaglia – along with Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron – said that, in the majority of cases, is not the way to go.

Calling it “a concerning topic,” Battaglia said those suffering from mental health issues by no means should be considered “low hanging fruit.”

“I wanted to just point that out … that the mental health individuals in the community are also those community residents that need medical services,” she said. “And I have to remind everyone, that somebody that's in a mental health crisis is ultimately considered a medical crisis.”

Battaglia said she was pleased to hear that both Yaeger and County Manager Matt Landers are looking at transports on a case-by-case basis, stating that persons exhibiting symptoms of psychosis are at acute risk of harming themselves or others need assistance from a mental health professional.

“I do have some concerns about EMS medically assessing an individual to determine whether or not police should transport or EMS should transport,” she said. “If somebody is making statements that they are going to die by suicide or if they are having suicidal ideations and deny taking any kind of pills, when in fact they did, and potentially negated telling that to any personnel, that places everybody at risk because they're not going to exhibit any kind of medical symptoms right away.”


She agreed that the entire EMS and healthcare systems are stressed due to COVID and workforce shortages but warned against the marginalization of the mentally ill.

“… What the system and the advocates have worked really hard about is to not stigmatize and to reduce stigmatization of individuals who are mentally ill,” she offered. “So, if police protocol is to handcuff somebody in a mental health crisis because they're being transported on a 941 and placed them in the back of a police car, that's criminalizing -- that is stigmatizing … and could have detrimental effects. It could possibly force that person to not want to reach out for help in the future; it could be very traumatizing …”

Sheron advised that the county transitioned from police vehicles to ambulances years ago “because of the more humane way to transport somebody that's in crisis.”

“To put somebody in the back of a patrol car behind a cage and in very limited space, I think is not the proper place for somebody who's in mental health crisis -- plain and simple,” he said. “Now, when we have an individual that is violent and we believe that they may become violent in the ambulance, we’ll send somebody along with the ambulance, either following the vehicle or inside the rig itself.”

Other key points brought up during the discussion are as follows:

  • Yaeger and Landers agreed that the situation is “not a black and white thing,” with the former acknowledging that the EMS crisis now has taken precedence over the county’s efforts to fix staffing and other issues related to emergency response in the case of fire or motor vehicle accidents.

In response to a question from Legislator Rochelle Stein about the county’s contract with Municipal Resources Inc., a consulting firm based in Plymouth, N.H., Yaeger said MRI's mandate will be expanded from finding solutions to the widening gaps in fire department coverage to also include confronting the EMS dilemma.

  • Legislator Gary Maha asked what happens if a call for a mental health transport comes in and no ambulances are available?

Yaeger responded by saying that request would be put on hold. “It’s either that or we’re going to try to get a volunteer ambulance to cover that call. They may cover it, or they may not, but it's going to end up waiting.”

  • Legislator Marianne Clattenburg said it is incumbent upon the county “to change how we fundamentally are doing things” by removing elements of criminalization in mental health cases.

“(To place) someone ... in a cop car I just think escalates things and I worry about the liability on the county … if we were to do that,” she said.

She then asked if the county had a contract with Mercy EMS for a certain level of service, to which Landers answered that there is no formal agreement on staffing levels although the county does provide funding to the operation.

  • Responding to questions from Legislator Christian Yunker, Landers said there are approximately 500 calls for mental health crisis intervention in Genesee County annually, although many of them end up as family member transports. The plan being considered is to shift up to half from ambulance to law enforcement transport to the three destination hospitals referred to previously in this report.
  • Landers said the discussion will continue, and he looks to include Dan Ireland, president of United Memorial Medical Center, as legislators inquired about the possibility of the Batavia hospital becoming certified to accept individuals in the midst of mental health breakdowns.

“They're (Rochester Regional Health administrators) heavily invested in doing everything with the new campus (in Batavia), and obviously, they're doing great things there with the hospital expansion,” Landers said. “So, I would hope that this could be something down the road that we have in our own community, I think there's a need there based on what we're hearing about (the numbers) being transported out of our community.”

  • Battaglia, upon hearing that paramedics are not provided with the training to properly handle mental health cases, said she would be willing to provide it.

“Law enforcement knows I've done some trainings for law enforcement. I was just at Le Roy Police a couple months ago, providing mental health training,” she said. “So, if you know that it’s not provided when they’re being trained and going to school, then that is definitely something that I can I can assist with.”

School-based therapist offers timely advice for how to help students struggling with mental health issues

By Joanne Beck

As parents and school leaders grapple with how to manage ongoing student mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, increased isolation and heavy social media use, it seems to come down to the basics.

That was the message from Tharaha Thavakumar, a school-based therapist with Genesee Mental Health, during a Zoom meeting with media Friday. 

“I think we just need to be putting out more goodness, with the way everything is in society,” she said. “I think we have to not normalize violence. I think we need to start seeing the kindness and the goodness, and other things that are happening in the world that are not violent.” 

That’s a tall order, considering that social media has pushed the limits of fun and innocuous posts into dangerous territory. Thavakumar’s talk, sponsored by Rochester Regional Health, stemmed from a TikTok challenge to kids across the country. They were encouraged to participate in a “Shoot Up Your School” challenge on Friday, Dec. 17. While some districts across the country closed school for the day, many others, including Batavia City Schools, tightened their safety protocols and had school resource officers and/or local police on-site or nearby just in case of an event.

There were no reports of any shootings Friday, but even the anticipation of such events can make for “heightened awareness,” Thavakumar said. Although there were no imminent threats, the idea of someone bringing a gun to school and using it can definitely cause “a lot of anxiety to the parents, to the teachers, to the faculty, to the students,” she said.

Living in an online world ...
“It’s unfortunate that social media has this power to kind of cause these threats and anxieties,” she said. “We’ve already had a rough year, just coming off of remote learning and hybrid learning.”

Take the pandemic and related stress, and then add “those societal threats” to it, and it really has a negative impact to mental health, she said. 

“It’s initially always that humans go to the negative; it’s how we view things,” she said. 

Having children of her own, Thavakumar understands the need to weigh each situation to determine the level of safety or danger. Her teenage son didn’t want to go to school after hearing about the challenge the night before. His mom suggested that they wait and see what, if anything, happens on Friday before making a final decision. On Friday, they came to a mutual conclusion.

“My kids did go to school today, I felt confident enough in school safety. I knew my son would be surrounded by kids he knew,” she said. “The kids I work with had a lot of anxiety; they had lockdown drills. Actually experiencing it is scary, it is something very traumatizing the kids have to go through … a pandemic and masks, school shootings, and threats seem to be happening more frequently. This is a reality that kids have to deal with, so it’s a constant trauma.”

Those intense feelings can make it very difficult to focus on academics, she said, and kids adapt to being in “fight or flight mode” and acquire “a whole lot of” physical ailments, poor sleep and mental health issues. 

“And then we wonder why kids can’t do well in school, because they’re in constant survival mode,” she said. 

Communication is key ...
As pointed out by Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler and senior Kylie Tatarka at this month’s city schools board meeting, good communication is crucial for helping kids cope. Both high school members talked about a strategy of having counselors visit students in class to check out how each is doing. That falls in line with Thavakumar’s advice.

“Talk to the kids and work on relationship building. If you as a parent notice your child is withdrawing, get them help,” Thavakumar said. “Just be aware … children are going through a lot. If they say they’re nervous, ask them why. Validate how they feel, and I think that’s the biggest thing that we miss. A lot of times were like it’s Ok, everything will be fine. No, it’s Ok to be upset.”

If one’s child doesn’t want to talk to his or her parent, then find a trusted person who they can and will talk to, she said. Kids are worried about what’s going on in the world, she said, and having a trusted relationship lets them know there’s someone they can go to when needed. 

How to begin ...
The School Mental Health and Training Center offers articles, assessment tools, and tips for how to deal with a mental health concern and emotional well-being. The site also provides mental health conversation starters to offer examples of what parents might say to get the ball rolling with a tight-lipped child.

This toolkit provides sample prompts for a variety of situations or concerns as well as tips on how to discuss good mental health habits in students and how to create a safe, caring, and age-appropriate atmosphere for ongoing conversation and dialogue with children and youth.

Instead of asking a yes/no question, such as “Are you okay?”, the site suggests to start a conversation that invites your child to share beyond a one-word answer. These may include:

• “It seems like something’s up. Let’s talk about what’s going on.”
• “I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately. What’s going on?”
• “Seems like you haven’t been yourself lately. What’s up?”
• “You don’t seem as ______ as you usually are. I’d like to help if I can.”
• “No matter what you’re going through, I’m here for you.”
• “This might be awkward, but I’d like to know if you’re really alright.”
• “I haven’t heard you laugh (or seen you smile) in a while. Is everything okay?”
• I’m worried about you and would like to know what’s going on so I can help.

Not all conversation starters need to be questions, the site states, and many times a caring statement and a moment of silence is all it takes for someone to begin sharing.
When noticing a change in behavior, it’s important to focus on the reason or emotion behind the action rather than the action itself. Avoid asking “Why are you (not) ______?” and, instead, state what you are noticing and what might be behind the behavior.

For example:

• “I’ve noticed that you seem more anxious on Sunday nights. What’s going on?”
• “Have you noticed that you’re not eating all of your dinner lately? I wonder if something is bothering you.”
• “I haven’t seen you playing basketball like you used to. What’s up?”

Noting, and asking about, a child’s behavior in a non-judgmental way avoids a typical “good/bad” dynamic that also demonstrates concern and care, it states. 
Thavakumar’s advice to highlight more of the good in the world diminishes what the site calls "a reinforcement of negative stigmas."  The Mental Health Association of New York State urges adults to watch for ways that students are practicing good mental health and wellness skills and to talk about it with them. 

For more information, visit the School Resource Center at

Suicide survivor tells her story in advance of Suicide Survivors Loss Day November 20

By Press Release

Press release:

“My name is Meredith Minier and I am a suicide survivor.  That was so hard – impossible - to say and write for a long time, but it is true.  Many people think it refers to a person who has survived a suicide attempt.  Not true.  It means we lost someone we loved dearly - and still love - to suicide. Some days it seems like it was a long time ago, and sometimes is seems like my husband, Lee, died just last week.  If you know me or anyone who has lost someone to suicide, you are a suicide survivor – in fact, I can almost say everyone who is reading this is a suicide survivor.  Perhaps it was a cousin, a work associate, your best friend’s mother, the neighbor down the road, or your spouse or child. 

We ‘suicide survivors’ are a unique group of grievers with unique challenges; one of the most challenging is fighting the stigma associated with suicide.  Many of us feel frozen, in so much pain we don’t know how to move forward. It is not something our loved ones would want for us.  I felt that way for a long time until I finally took action to turn my pain into something positive and help those in my community find the help and resources they need to heal and be productive and honor the one they loved and lost.” 

To help the process of healing, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ( has sponsored the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.  AFSP sponsors this special day the Saturday before Thanksgiving of each November. The GOW Pathway to Hope Steering Committee and the Orleans County Suicide Prevention Coalition have planned a week of special online activities preceding the 20th for all the residents of Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming County communities to come together and reach out a hand to those grieving following the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Please go to the following Facebook pages Orleans County (, Wyoming County ( or the GOW Pathway to Hope page (  for positive thoughts, ideas and activities for positive action during the Week of November 15th. 

International Survivors of Suicide Loss day is observed worldwide as a way of showing support to survivors who are struggling.  Please light a candle on Nov. 20 from 7-9 p.m. to bring these survivors out of the darkness and into the light with your support.  If you are on Facebook, please take a picture and post it on your page and tag it #LightAPathway2Hope2021 so we can share it on our social media platforms.  For those who are not on Facebook but would like to share a remembrance of a loved one or share words of encouragement for those who are grieving, you can send an anonymous message via survey monkey and we will share them as we are able:

“Suicide survivor’s put a face to suicide…by sharing their personal stories, they are able to turn their grief into action and communicate the urgent need to take concrete steps to prevent more deaths by suicide.  Their openness also sends a message of hope that there is always a tomorrow after suicide.”  Author unknown

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety and/or thoughts of suicide it is important to reach out for help.  The Care + Crisis Helpline is a free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You can call 585-283-5200 or text ‘Hope’ to 741741 and they will help connect you with appropriate assistance.  For the Genesee County Mental Health at 585-344-1421.  The Orleans County Mental Health Department can be reached at 585-589-7066.  In Wyoming County you can reach out to Spectrum Health at 585-786-0220 or Clarity Wellness at 585-786-0790.  For Veterans, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. If you are having a mental health emergency, please call 9-1-1 for assistance. 

You are not alone, there are people who want to help.


Mental health agency credits staff and RTS for collaboration and dedication

By Press Release

Press release:

The Regional Transit Service (RTS), longtime employee Alan Moore, and scholarship winner Ava Flores were honored at the annual meeting of the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties (MHAGO). The event took place on Oct. 7 at Terry Hills Golf Course with 24 people attending.

MHAGO Executive Director Tom Christensen credited the dedication of the staff for keeping the agency open through the pandemic, noting that as an essential business, MHAGO has remained open to in-person services, with no staff layoffs or reduction of hours.

“The COVID-19 crisis highlighted for us how important everyday mental health and wellness practices are to managing social isolation, anxiety, and stress,” Christensen said. “We believe MHAGO services contributed to the emotional resilience of both our participants and our community during these uncertain times.”

RTS also contributed to the community’s well-being, according to MHAGO, by providing free rides to and from medical appointments – including visits essential for mental health – for the two counties’ residents. John Arneth, RTS’ Regional Manager for Genesee & Orleans, accepted the Constance E. Miller Award of Excellence on behalf of the organization. Constance E. Miller, along with a small group of dedicated volunteers, founded the Mental Health Association in 1993. This award honors her commitment to excellence by recognizing individuals and organizations who work to promote mental wellness, instill hope, and improve the quality of life for people living in Genesee and Orleans counties.

“We had some rigorous protocols to follow in order to keep everyone safe, but we were really happy to be able to continue to provide medical transport services during a time that created a lot of anxiety and fear for people,” Arneth said.

MHAGO recognized Alan Moore as a 25-year staff member. Colleagues described Moore as a mild-mannered, versatile, reliable team member who “quietly supports and encourages (MHAGO) participants.” It was also noted that he models self-care by walking regularly and “getting his steps in” each day.

MHAGO awarded the Board of Directors’ Educational Scholarship to Ava Flores, 2021 graduate of both Oakfield-Alabama High School and Genesee Community College. Flores is now studying psychology at Roberts Wesleyan College. The MHAGO scholarship program provides financial support to individuals pursuing higher education in the fields of human or social services. Flores received $500 toward her studies.

Kylee Criscione, a mental health program specialist from the state Office of Mental Health – WNY Field Office, gave a presentation via Zoom. She noted, aptly, that telehealth visits represent one of several ways MHAGO has stepped up to address

the challenges of meeting community needs.

In the annual report distributed at the meeting, Christensen noted that MHAGO Medicaid Managed Care HCBS services increased in 2020 to become the largest local provider of Mental Health HCBS, with 267 combined in-person and telehealth visits across 271 hours of service. “We look forward to further expansion of managed care services through the State’s newly proposed CORE (Community Oriented Empowerment Services) model,” he wrote.

Other noteworthy 2020 stats:

  • A total of 256 persons were served by MHAGO programs, including 186 in the Recovery Center, 147 in the Social Club, and 50 in the Drop-In Center.
  • MHAGO’s Recovery Center provided 5,009 combined in-person and telehealth visits across 3,028 hours of service.
  • Social Club: 3,397 combined in-person and telehealth visits
  • Drop-In Center: 1,726 combined in-person and telehealth visits
  • Warmline: 2,852 outreach messages and 5,879 completed calls
  • The agency also provided 1,014 one-way trips. All transportation staff also provided outreach telehealth calls and wellness checks during office hours.

MHAGO reported $576,030 total support and revenue, with $618,689 in total expenses. The agency ended 2020 with $129,358 cash on hand. The 2020 Financial Statement and Auditors’ Report were prepared by EFPR Group, CPAs, PLLC. Copies of the Audit and Form 990 may be obtained by request from the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties, 25 Liberty Street, Batavia, NY 14020.

“Even in good times,” Christensen said, “a lack of social engagement has been a leading predictor of poor health outcomes, poor quality of life, and shortened lifespans. With Covid bringing out the worst of these troubles, our staff really stepped up and made a big difference. I’m very pleased with our team.”

Genesee County Mental Health extends invitation for residents to join suicide prevention forum

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee County Mental Health, in observance of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, is inviting community members and healthcare providers to participate in a Rural Listening Tour on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 to learn more about the rural environment factors that may contribute to mental health concerns and the increased risk of suicide.

Coordinated by the University of Albany’s School of Public Health,    the listening tours will consist of two 90-minute forums in four rural New York counties. One forum will include community members at-large (Sept. 30) and the other will consist of community providers/stakeholders (Oct. 1).

“Each county setting has its own unique aspects and cultural norms that can influence people’s mental wellness,” said Lynda Battaglia, Genesee’s director of Mental Health & Community Services. “We expect that our participation in these Listening Tour forums will generate valuable information that will enable us to better serve our residents.”

Battaglia advised that the purpose of the program is to gain insight on the following questions:

  • What are the main factors that contribute to increased risk of suicide in rural New York? What factors contribute to positive mental health and wellbeing?
  • How do community members seek help for behavioral health concerns, and what factors influence these help-seeking preferences?
  • How can rural communities – individually and as a whole – improve availability, awareness, access, and utilization of mental health services and resources?

At the conclusion of the project, each county will receive a presentation (in-person or virtual) and written summary of the results and recommendations coming out of their forums, Battaglia said.

Furthermore, information gained across all eight forums conducted in the four counties will also be aggregated to develop an overall set of recommendations to present to the Rural Suicide Prevention Workgroup and to the New York State Suicide Prevention Council.

“Ultimately, the listening tour protocol will be refined and disseminated statewide so that all counties will have the tools to conduct their own forums in the future,” she added.

The forums, which will be confidential in a Virtual private group setting, are scheduled as follows:

Sept. 30, 4:30 p.m., for Genesee County residents (no other requirements are necessary).

Oct. 1, 1 p.m., for community providers/stakeholders (requirements are that participants must be service providers/stakeholders who provide services to Genesee County. This could include school personal, law enforcement, emergency management services, religious establishments, etc.).

Those interested in participating are asked to contact Brenda Reeves at 585-344-1421, ext. 6681, or at The deadline to respond is Sept. 27. A Zoom link will be provided upon registration.

County mental health director credits Olympic gymnast for having courage to recognize wellness issues

By Mike Pettinella

Simone Biles, arguably the most dominant gymnast ever, with a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, is exhibiting a great deal of strength by acknowledging the mental health issues that have led her to withdraw from the team and individual all-around competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

That’s the opinion of Lynda Battaglia, Genesee County’s director of mental health and community services, who shared her thoughts with The Batavian this morning.

“I think it took a lot more strength for her to recognize that she really wasn’t in the right ‘head space’ and that it was in her best interest to withdraw. I think she is leading by example to say that’s it’s ok to not be ok,” Battaglia said.

Biles, 24, pulled out of the women’s gymnastics team final on Tuesday (Team USA ultimately captured the silver medal) and has decided not to defend her individual all-around gold medal, which is set for Thursday.

A statement from USA Gymnastics indicated Biles has withdrawn to focus on her mental health, and has not decided on whether to compete in next week’s event finals.

Appearing on the Today show, Biles said: “Physically, I feel good, I'm in shape. Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming to the Olympics and being the head star isn't an easy feat, so we're just trying to take it one day at a time and we'll see.”

Previously, she revealed that she has been in therapy and takes medication to deal with anxiety issues.

'Weight of the World'

Battaglia said that Biles’ statement that she has “the weight of the world on her shoulders” speaks volumes.

“I guess my question is why should any person, maybe beside the president, feel that kind of pressure?” Battaglia asked. “We’re human beings. We are not designed to be perfect (but) Olympians and elite athletes strive and practice excessively to achieve that perfection.”

Intense pressure comes in many forms and can hit people in all walks of life, she said.

“Even people academically. That kind of stress is not just in the athletic world but also in academics – students trying to get scholarships or pushing themselves to achieve greatness,” she said. “I believe in hard work and achieving greatness, but not at the cost of one’s mental health.”

Christian Bartz, a licensed clinical social worker with his own practice, Batavia Counseling & Wellness, mentioned that Biles is a trauma survivor, having acknowledged that she was abused by the gymnastics' team doctor.

Trauma Compounds the Problem

"In Simone’s case, she is a victim of abuse, and we know this because she was brave enough to disclose it," he said. "If we’re going to talk in particular about Simone, if there’s something that you and I may be afraid of, like if I’m afraid of heights, that fear trigger for Simone is going to touch on trauma. This is a trauma survivor."

Bartz said the general public doesn’t truly understand the adverse impact of trauma.

"We don’t need PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) to still have trauma in our life," he said. "And where there’s trauma, there’s a rewiring of your brain, so fear hits you differently; pressure hits you differently. So, with her trauma being connected to their team doctor … directly connected to the sport in which she competes in, it makes it even more difficult for her."

Battaglia, an adjunct professor of Social Work at the University of Buffalo, said she hopes those watching the Olympics can empathize with the athletes who have dedicated their lives to their craft.

It's Not Fair to Pass Judgment

“Olympians are trying to be the best in the world, and the entire world is watching them. I think it’s easy for people to watch it on TV and to be disappointed, if you will, if the United States comes in second place or somebody withdraws or doesn’t perform to that perfection level,” she offered. " I think it’s very easy for people to judge and be disappointed, but is that how they really should react? They’re not walking in their shoes.”

Battaglia also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing delay in having the Olympic Games have added to the uncertainty and insecurity.

“In the case of the Olympics, it was delayed a year and now you’ve got another year of training,” she said. “And now you’re going to a country with no spectators – you might not have that family support that you’re hoping to have. Not only is the world watching you, but now you’re in a country where there still is a significant risk of COVID.”

The number of people seeking mental health treatment has increased dramatically since COVID, she said.

“We, people in the field, were expecting that. We’re going to see a ripple effect and it’s going to linger for quite some time.”

File photo of Simone Biles, courtesy of NBC News.

State approves Mobile Access Program for Genesee County Mental Health to work with three police agencies

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee County’s director of mental health and community services apparently swung for the fences and hit a home run last week when she learned that the New York State Office of Mental Health approved the county’s application to participate in the Mobile Access Program with three law enforcement agencies.

The Mobile Access Program (MAP) is a pilot initiative that connects residents in distress with mental health clinicians utilizing iPads (via Zoom for Healthcare, a secure teleconferencing software program) when law enforcement officers request assistance.

Mental health staff then will conduct an evaluation remotely to help plan for an appropriate disposition.

“They (NYSOMH officials) really wanted one law enforcement agency but we kind of took a gamble and chose three. We asked for a lot,” said Lynda Battaglia, who heads up the county’s mental health department.

The three police departments that have agreed to partner with Genesee County are the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, City of Batavia Police and Village of Le Roy Police.

Battaglia said heads of the three law enforcement agencies watched a webinar about the program and all expressed an interest in participating.

“I asked each police department to provide information specific to their line of work – how many devices they would need for each shift; bandwidth, accessibility in different areas; how many officers would need iPads and the number of calls related to mental health issues they receive,” Battaglia offered.

She then took that data and coupled it with mental health information and sent the application to the NYSOMH. Not only was Genesee County approved, but requests from all other counties as well.

“We received notice that since there was such a great response … they were able to accommodate all the applicants,” she noted.

Calling it a “telehealth program,” Battaglia said the state will give iPads to all three police departments and to the mental health clinic. The state also will provide training and support services.

She said that the objective is to increase accessibility to those having mental health issues and cut down the time it takes to deliver essential mental health consultations.

“Let’s say police receive a call to go out and talk with somebody – and it’s a mental health call,” she said. “One of the goals is to decrease unnecessary transport to the hospital, under Mental Health Law 9.41.”

Mental Health Law Section 9.41 give powers to peace officers and police officers to admit individuals in emergency situations for immediate observation, care, and treatment.

Battaglia explained that if an officer is interacting with someone who doesn’t need to be transported to a hospital (or to jail), they will ask that person if they wish to have a telehealth emergency visit with the mental health person on call.

“There will be arrangements made to have the officer connect with his or her iPad with our on-call person with their iPad, and the mental health person will conduct a telehealth session with that individual in crisis,” she said.

She did acknowledge that the program won’t work in all cases, specifically if someone is under the influence of alcohol or substances – “for clinical reasons you won’t get an accurate assessment,” she said – or if a person is extremely agitated or at very high risk.

“We’re hoping to have it where the mental health professionals make that determination (which is allowed under MHL Section 9.45 -- emergency admissions for immediate observation, care, and treatment under the authority of directors of community services or authorized designees).

Genesee County Sheriff William Sheron reported that mental health calls continue to increase.

“I would say we average at least one a day – and some days, more than others,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to get the proper treatment to these individuals in a timely fashion, and reduce the amount of police involvement in the process.”

Sheron said law enforcement is “working hand-in-hand with mental health to more directly address the needs of people who have mental health crises.”

“This will expedite that. It may not be appropriate for all cases, but I think for the majority of them, it will be very beneficial. The last thing we want to do is having law enforcement take some kind of criminal action against somebody when they really need the services of mental health professionals.”

Battaglia said she expects it to take a few months for state mental health officials to provide training and to implement the program. She said is hoping that this turns out to be a win-win situation for all.

“We have a crisis plan in place (contracting with SpectrumHealth for a mobile response team), and I think that it is a plan that has been OK. But, with this opportunity and moving into the future, we can make the crisis plan a little more connected,” she said.

“It will definitely prove how law enforcement and mental health officials can work together. It will build relationships. It will help the people in the community.”

Mental health director supports full-time psychiatrist to better meet the needs of increasing caseload

By Mike Pettinella

After weathering the storm known as the COVID-19 pandemic, the director of Mental Health & Community Services for Genesee County is placing a high priority on ending the locum method of providing psychiatric services to those in need.

Lynda Battaglia, speaking at today’s Genesee County Legislature Human Services Committee at the Old County Courthouse, said that in a perfect world, the county would have its own psychiatrist on the payroll.

“Ultimately, having a full-time psychiatry position instead of a locum (would be best),” Battaglia said. “We would have to find the money.”

A locum is defined as someone who fulfills the duties of another when absent or, as in the case of Genesee County Mental Health, when the agency is short-staffed.

Battaglia, during her yearly department review, reported that she can see both sides of an argument for and against a full-time psychiatrist, but finds more benefits than drawbacks.

“One benefit is continuum of care,” she said, noting that having the same doctor on site provides for consistent and continual treatment. “Whether it’s telehealth (remote), in person or a combination, having the same doctor five days a week (makes a difference).”

Her office, which consists of 65 employees, including 40 clinical staff, has used locum services to assist with psychiatric care.

She said the “pros” are working with an agency “that has been essential in making sure we are satisfied with our services” while the “cons” include the fact that sometimes the doctor is not a good fit, which forces a change and makes it more difficult for clients.

“We are on our third locum now,” she said. “Ideally, we should hire a full-time psychiatrist as a county employee to allow for stability within the agency and for the clients. This will be a goal for the upcoming year.”

When asked if other nearby counties had a full-time psychiatrist, she said some do and some mirror Genesee’s approach. She wasn’t sure about the annual salary, but speculated that it would exceed $100,000 with benefits.

Battaglia said the issue has been brought up to the Mental Health Community Services Board but has yet to be formally presented.

On other fronts, Battaglia reported the following:

  • Clinical caseloads have reached 90 to 100 per therapist, an all-time high, but this is consistent with other counties in the state,” she said. Employees monitor their clients’ needs on a regular basis and close out cases as appropriate. “We are meeting the demand; however, this kind of pace leads to burnout,” she said. As of the end of March, the department was serving more than 1,700 clients – with a recent increase of almost 100 per month.
  • Genesee County Mental Health is planning to open satellite offices at Oakfield-Alabama and Le Roy schools, bringing the total of schools to four and “more are in the works,” she said.
  • The department will continue its collaboration with all Genesee County police agencies, with goals of creating a law enforcement mental health referral system, to provide additional training and to apply for a mobile access program (utilizing an iPad for mental health crisis response with police on site).
  • For 2021, the department has reached 40 percent of its budgeted goal of 18,250 units of service, about 7 percent more than anticipated at this time of the year. She also reported that the state has restored $70,859 in funding to the department that originally was withheld in 2020 due to projections stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Calling the past year as one of “unchartered waters which created feelings of anxiety, fear and worry,” she thanked her staff for pushing through to deliver services without any stoppage. “We were not immune to the anxiety and fears that the pandemic produced, but knowing the essential service we provided, we became resilient, creative and embraced the telehealth wave which kept us connected,” she said. She singled out Lynnell Schreiber, recently hired as an administrative officer, for helping to keep the department on track.

Genesee County director presents clear, earnest picture of how mental health issues affect our daily lives

By Mike Pettinella

Lynda Battaglia, director of Mental Health & Community Services for Genesee County, packed a powerful punch into a two-minute speech Wednesday as she accepted a proclamation from the Genesee County Legislature designating May as National Mental Health Awareness Month.

Her words about mental health and its far-reaching effects on so many people are as follows:

“(I’ve been) thinking about what we’ve gone through the last 15 or 16 months, the global pandemic that has impacted every single one of us and political and social eruptions that have occurred in our communities from what we’ve seen on TV.

“I think it’s fair to say that these events have taken a toll on our people and have left an imprint on many. Now, as a result, I think it’s fair to say that maybe people will have a better understanding of mental health and what mental health awareness is -- because it is at the forefront of our world today.

“Mental health, overall, impacts every single part of you as a person. It impacts you physically, emotionally, cognitively, spiritually; everything is connected. It affects the way you make decisions, your quality of life and the way you live. Mental health awareness is being cognizant of one’s overall health because it is all connected. It’s taking care of every part of you as a person.

“It’s also knowing that it is OK to not be OK, and that it’s OK to ask for help and to reach out for help. It’s knowing you’re not alone because at some point in time, all of us have felt what you have felt.

“We have an obligation and a duty as a county to stop the stigma associated with reaching out for help. And instead of one feeling shame for reaching out for help, they should be receiving praise for taking that first step.

“The more awareness and education that we can provide, the healthier our communities become, the healthier our residents become and the healthier our children become. I’d like to thank the workforce of all the community providers in the county who continue to provide this essential service during this last year and a half.”

Battaglia’s words prompted heartfelt applause from legislators and those in the audience at the Old County Courthouse. Afterward, she and Thomas Christensen, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties, posed for a photo (at top) with legislators Gordon Dibble, left, and Gregg Torrey, right.

Dibble, a member of the mental health community services board, said, “We’re proud of the work they do and the people who work there (at Genesee County Mental Health Services).”

The proclamation reads, in part, “the GCMHS is committed to ensuring that people living with mental health conditions are treated with compassion, respect and understanding, and is working to ensure citizens have access to affordable, quality, evidence-based mental health care.”

For more information about GCMHS, go to Welcome to County of Genesee.

Schumer: NY needs mental health funds ASAP for timely access to care

By Press Release

Press release:

In a new push to combat a silent but devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on mental health, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer this week pushed the feds to "quick release" $5 billion dollars he worked to include in the recently passed American Rescue Plan (ARP) so that the funds can give New Yorkers—and the mental health providers they rely upon—the help they’re asking for amid rising need.

Schumer said that, on average, three times more people than last year at this time report struggling with mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, drug use and more. Schumer said that one of the biggest problems to beating these feelings and reclaiming mental health depends on timely access to care and overall access to care.

He explained that with the "quick release" of these fed funds, New York will see a surge in mental health support programs and increased access to a variety of care options.

“What many New Yorkers are saying right now is that the pandemic has taken such a mental toll that some of them need more help than others to overcome new challenges and struggles related to their mental health and happiness,” Schumer said. “In fact, New York’s increased mental health struggles are an overall silent—but devastating—effect of this pandemic with three times more people than last year reporting the onset of symptoms like depression, anxiety and more.

"Untreated, these conditions can lead to dangerous spirals that upend lives and families. That is why we need a quick release of the $5 billion in fed funds secured as part of the American Rescue Plan to beat back this surge in need and give patients and providers more help.”

COVID-19's Toll on Mental Health: Anxiety, Depression, Psychiatric Disorders Rising 

Schumer stressed the importance of combatting the mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, citing a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation that said during the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from 1 in 10 adults who reported the same symptoms less than a year ago.

Amongst COVID-19 survivors as well, it has been reported that 1 in 3 patients were diagnosed with a brain or psychiatric disorder within six months of physical recovery, indicating that the mental health effects of COVID-19 will last well beyond the end of the pandemic.

“This is a critical moment where we must acknowledge the lasting mental effects of the pandemic and work to combat them before the crisis deepens,” Schumer added. “The feds (via HHS and SAMHSA) must stand up their programs ASAP and begin the hard, but important, work of getting these funds out to support our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

“As a field, we are seeing surges in New York area patients with anxiety, depression, and loneliness for adults and children. Some COVID-19 survivors are experiencing psychiatric symptoms for the first time months into their recovery. And nationally there has been a significant increase in substance use and overdose deaths.

This is not a surprise. COVID-19 has disrupted every facet of life and people are struggling. The reality is that the pandemic has blocked common coping strategies including social interactions, daily routines, and planning for the future.

Schumer is wise to have secured these funds because there is a need in the community with new patients seeking care, and old patients returning to care.

Mental Health Funding Needed Sooner Rather Than Later

"The faster these funds are released the sooner more individuals can get the help they need,” said Aspasia Hotzoglou, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at American Institute for Cognitive Therapy.​

The roughly $5 billion Schumer helped to deliver nationally is broken down, in part, below. New York will see a sizable portion of these funds, once they begin to flow.

  • Schumer secured $3 billion for mental health and substance use block grants. These grants are used to fund treatment for a variety of New Yorkers, enhance mental health prevention efforts, and implement local, community-based mental health interventions. Based on the services they offer, New York mental health organizations—and providers—will be able to apply for these funds via SAMHSA.
  • Funds would also be in the form of Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants. These funds are sent directly to community organizations to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment and services, such as screening, day treatment programs, emergency services, outpatient treatment and more.
  • More than $1 billion for a new federal program to create mobile crisis intervention services, which are dispatched when a person is experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis. These services can work closely with law enforcement and help protect both patients and police officers.
  • $140 million for mental health needs of doctors, nurses and health care providers, who have struggled with PTSD and exhaustion during the pandemic:
    • $80 million for health care professional mental health programs;
    • $20 million for a national evidence-based education and awareness campaign targeting health care professionals and first responders;
    • $40 million for grants for health care providers to promote mental and behavioral health among their health professional workforce.
  • $140 million for youth mental health.

“Bottom line here is that the feds need to get this money out the door so local organizations and providers can keep theirs open and meet the increased demand spurred by COVID,” Schumer added.

Mental health crisis helpline down, alternative numbers availabile

By Press Release

Press release:

Effective immediately the 24-hour Care & Crisis Helpline serving Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties is down and nonoperational.

In the case of a mental health related crisis or for information on available mental health resources in your community, please contact the numbers below, utilizing the number associated with the county in which you reside or contact 9-1-1.

  • Genesee & Orleans counties (716) 285 –3515
  • Wyoming County (716) 882-4357


The Care & Crisis Helpline (585) 283-5200 serving Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties is back in service. In the case of a mental health crisis or if you are in need of additional information on your county's available mental health resources, please contact (585) 283-5200 or 9-1-1.

Hawley and Minority Assembly demand funds be released for veterans' peer support program

By Press Release

Press release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley and his colleagues in the Assembly Minority have written a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the chairs of the Assembly committees on Mental Health and Veterans’ Affairs demanding funds for the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer-to-Peer Support Program be released immediately.

More than $4.5 million was allocated for the program in the 2020-2021 Enacted Budget for the program, which connects veterans struggling with mental health conditions with other veterans to help them adapt to civilian life one-on-one.

“As a veteran and somebody who has served on the Assembly’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee for 15 years, I can’t overstate how crucial this program is and the impact it has on the lives of our service members returning home from duty,” Hawley said.

“The unprecedented times we’re living in have impacted us all, including our veterans, and it is critical we maintain this funding during a period when our mental health is more strained than ever.

"After working with them to fight back the Governor’s attempts to cut the program entirely last year, I am hopeful we will be able to work with the Majority again to insure this program continues helping our veterans.”

Legislative committees support several board appointments

By Mike Pettinella

The Human Services and Ways & Means committees of the Genesee County Legislature on Monday recommended the appointments of several persons to the Mental Health Community Services Board and the Office for the Aging Advisory Council.

Batavians James Owen and MaryElla Loos were reappointed to the mental health board, with their terms expiring on Dec. 31, 2024.

Three persons were appointed to assume three vacant positions on the same board.

They are Dr. Mary Obear of Corfu (through Aug. 14, 2022), Kathleen Antonelli of Batavia (through Dec. 31, 2021) and Diana Fox of Holley (through Dec. 31, 2022).

Fox is the current director of the Office for the Aging.

Each will receive a $40 stipend per meeting.

Margaret Weissend, RN, director of rural branch operations for Kaleida Health, was reappointed to a voluntary seat on the Office for the Aging Advisory Council for a three-year term, effective Jan. 1.

In a separate matter, Legislator Gary Maha commended Matt Worth on his retirement after nearly 34 years as a City of Batavia employee, the last six as public works director.

“I worked very closely (with Matt) on a number of issues here with the county – such as the water agreement and sales tax agreement – and as a member of the Genesee County Water Resources Agency. He is a wealth of information.”

Worth’s last official day is Jan. 15.

Spectrum Health and Human Services awarded for crisis support program

By Press Release

Submitted photo and press release:

Spectrum Health and Human Services was awarded the Constance E. Miller Commitment to Excellence Award at the Annual Luncheon Meeting given by the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans County.

The award given annually to an individual or organization that demonstrates a commitment to excellence pertinent to the delivery and/or advocacy of quality community-based mental health services in Genesee and Orleans county. 

Spectrum Health was recognized for providing crucial after-hours and overnight crisis support through its Crisis and Restabilization Emergency Services (CARES) program, which assists families and individuals to resolve mental health crises.

Additionally, Spectrum Health actively participates on the Orleans County Crisis Intervention Team and is an active member of the Mental Health Subcommittee of the Community Services Board in both Genesee and Orleans counties. 

The Orleans County Legislature also cited Spectrum Health for its active participation in the Orleans County Crisis Intervention Team that helps improve collaboration between mental health and law enforcement agencies. The Genesee County Legislature acknowledged Spectrum Health and its efforts and dedication to the well-being of county citizens and quality of life in the region.

Spectrum Health’s Robert Cannata, MSW, vice president of Crisis Response and Peer Support Services, was also presented with a Certificate of Achievement by the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties at the same event.

Photo: Robert Canatta, vice president, and Cindy Voelker, associate CEO, of Spectrum Health and Human Services with the Constance E. Miller Commitment to Excellence Award.

Suicide Prevention Month: Sept. 22 virtual screening and panel discussion of film 'The S Word'

By Press Release

Press release:

September is Suicide Prevention Month. The Suicide Prevention Coalitions of Genesee, Orleans & Wyoming Counties in partnership with NAMI Rochester will present a film by Lisa Klein, "The S Word," from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22.

This will be a virtual screening, followed by a panel discussion with Kristina Mossgraber and Cheryl Netter who will share their perspectives. Both are suicide survivors who have turned their experience into advocating for mental health.

For more information, and to preregister for the film/discussion, please email:

About the Film

A suicide attempt survivor is on a mission to find fellow survivors and document their stories of unguarded courage, insight, pain and humor. Along the way, she discovers a national community rising to transform personal struggles into action.

Skillfully weaving stories of survivors from a cross section of America including LGBTQ, African American and Asian American communities, the film candidly shares their profoundly moving stories of trauma, mental health challenges, survival and advocacy, and shows how their journeys are driving the national movement to take the “S” word from unthinkable to preventable.

Trailer for film available is here.

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