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March 1, 2022 - 11:30am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, mental health, Continuing Day Treatment.

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.

December 20, 2021 - 10:58pm

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 mentalhealthEDnys.org.

November 9, 2021 - 3:03pm
posted by Press Release in suicide survivors, mental health, news.

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 (www.AFSP.org) 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 (www.facebook.com/OrleansCountySuicidePreventionCoalition), Wyoming County (https://www.facebook.com/wyomingcountySPC) or the GOW Pathway to Hope page (https://www.facebook.com/GOWPathwaytoHope/)  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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GOWPathway2Hope2021

“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.


March 2, 2021 - 7:12pm
posted by Press Release in mental health, Care & Crisis Helpline, news.

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.

January 19, 2021 - 2:32pm

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.”

September 10, 2020 - 2:26pm

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:   [email protected]

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.

July 17, 2020 - 2:00pm

From the New York Council on Problem Gambling:

Mental health refers to our cognitive, emotional, and behavioral wellness. How we think and feel can attribute to the behaviors we display. Many individuals struggle with their mental health in a daily basis.

A variety of factors come into play, but did you ever stop and think that problem gambling may be a source of emotional distress for someone?

Nearly 668,000 New Yorkers have experienced a gambling problem in the past year. That is a lot of family, friends, and colleagues having trouble; possibly half of the state population.

Problems from gambling can include sleep issues, strains on relationships with loved ones, financial problems and struggles at work. 

Each person struggling with problem gambling affects up to 10 of the closest people to them. A study found that nine out of 10 people affected by someone else’s gambling problems felt emotional distress.

This means that between the people struggling with problem gambling and the people closest to them, nearly 6.7 million New Yorkers are affected by problem gambling and may struggle with mental health issues because of it.

People who struggle with problem gambling are also at a higher risk for struggling with other mental health disorders.

Two out of three gamblers reported that their mental health suffered as a result of their gambling problems.

In addition to struggling with gambling they may be struggling with mental health problems such as a mood disorder, personality disorder, and anxiety.

On top of that, problem gambling has the highest suicide rate among all addictions. About 50 percent of those struggling with a gambling problem have either thought about or attempted suicide. And one in 5 has attempted and/or died by suicide.

Those are frightening statistics.  

How can we tell if someone is struggling with a gambling addiction? There are several warning signs to look out for including: being absent from friend/family events because of gambling; feeling stressed or anxious when not gambling; low work performance due to absence or preoccupation with betting; and lying to family and friends about how much money and time is spent on gambling.

For more information and help in Western New York, please click here to access the website of the Problem Gambling Resource Center in Williamsville. Or call (716) 833.4274. Email is:   [email protected]mbling.org

April 1, 2020 - 1:09pm

Press release:

It’s an amazingly challenging time, and in the spirit of chipping in and taking care of each other in our community, Blue Pearl Yoga is now offering live stream yoga classes.

The health benefits of yoga are very real. Yoga is wonderful practice for stress relief, relaxation and focus.

Yoga can increase flexibility, build strength, and improve balance.

There is a vast and growing body of research on how yoga improves immunity, reduces anxiety, lessens everyday aches and pains, and helps with a wide array of physical and mental health concerns. It is essentially self-care.

Due to the financial strain that many people are facing, Blue Pearl welcomes you to use a discount code offered when you sign up for a class (half off or free).

For those in a position to contribute, it is greatly appreciated to help offset our temporary closure of our physical space until that time when we can reopen the doors to the studio.

From all of us at Blue Pearl, may you be healthy, may you be happy, and may you have peace of mind.

Sign up for live stream yoga classes here.

August 2, 2019 - 3:33pm
posted by Billie Owens in mindfulness, CEUs, mental health, recovery, batavia, ILGR, news.

Press release:

While "mindfulness" as an avenue to better health, is a concept that's been spreading, so have the misunderstandings about how you can benefit from it.

Batavia’s premier consumer-run human service and advocacy agency for people with disabilities, Independent Living of the Genesee Region (ILGR), will provide much needed perspective with a seminar that's FREE to the public, "Healing through Mindfulness: Incorporating Mindful Strategies into Practice."

With the support of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services Inc. (NYAPRS) and Recovery WOW -- a program of GCASA, the event will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at the ILGR office, 319 W. Main St., Batavia.

The presenter is Robert Statham, CESP, training and technical asistance facilitator for the Western & Central New York Region of NYAPRS.

While mindfulness has gained widespread attention and popularity for its extensive health benefits, there continues to be much confusion around what it really means and how to “do it!”

This workshop will address what mindfulness really is, what the current research has to say about its ability to help people recover from a diverse range of physical, emotional, and psychological challenges, and its potential for achieving overall wellness.

It's of particular interest to social workers and licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), as they can earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for this training.

For more information or to register, please contact: Donna Becker at (585) 815-8501, ext. 411, or [email protected]

Independent Living of the Genesee Region (ILGR) is a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies that offers an expanding array of services to aid individuals with disabilities to take control of their own lives.

New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services Inc. (NYAPRS) is a statewide coalition of people who use and/or provide recovery-oriented, community-based mental health services, dedicated to improving services and social conditions for people with psychiatric disabilities or diagnoses, and those with trauma-related conditions by promoting their recovery, rehabilitation and rights so that all people can participate freely in the opportunities of society.

Recovery WOW (WithOut Walls) is a program of GCASA that offers a variety of safe, sober opportunities and activities for individuals in recovery and their families to enjoy.

February 12, 2019 - 3:11pm
From the GOW Opioid Task Force:
The GOW (Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming) Opioid Task Force is excited to announce the opportunity to become a Peer Recovery Coach.
This training has been grant funded by the Health Resources and Service Administration and therefore is FREE.
Trainees should have a high school diploma or equivalent and lived experience is preferred -- in recovery, affected family member, experience working in the SUD/Recovery field.
Training is six-weeks in length (46 hours total) and you must commit to completing the program. Space is limited!
Training will take place at the Lake Plains Community Care Network at 575 E. Main St. in Batavia. Please check out the website and flier for more information here.
As part of the Community Based Recovery Support Training Project, training is offered to a select group of committed community members seeking to achieve NYS Peer Recovery Professional Certification.
This enables them to serve families and individuals affected by Substance Abuse Disorder with evidence-based recovery supports, skills and strategies.
The workshop facilitators are Lori Drescher (CARC, RCP) and Keith Greer (LCSW, PCC, PRC), who are professional coaches, recovery advocates and facilitators with a combined 55 years of experience.
If you have specific questions please contact Charlotte Crawford at [email protected] or by phone 585-345-6110.
October 8, 2018 - 12:56pm
posted by Allison Lang in mental health, addiction, support group.
Event Date and Time: 
November 6, 2018 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm
Addiction can have a devastating impact on the families of those struggling with a substance use disorder.  The good news is that there are many wonderful family resources available to help them and other loved ones cope, heal and carry on.  If you have a family member who is struggling with addiction, depression or mental illness, and would like to connect with other families and loved ones, please join us for a relaxed time of support, encouragement and coffee!  There is no cost to attend this event.  
February 25, 2018 - 7:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in mental health, law enforcement, news, notify.


Local leaders in law enforcement, fire services, mental health and other crisis intervention professionals met at the Fire Training Center on Friday to help map out what services and resources the county has available to people with mental health issues.

The goal is to find ways to get people in the midst of a mental health crisis help before it becomes a law enforcement issue, and when a mental health issue does involve police officers, those officers have the training and resources to deal with it effectively.

Don Kamin, director of the Institute for Police, Mental Health & Community Collaboration in Rochester, along with Martin Giuliano, led the discussion.

Kamin's program is four years old and was created and funded by the State Senate. Both Monroe County and Erie County already have such programs in place, and it's now Genesee County's turn for organizing the program and providing training. 

In a couple of months, Kamin and his team and his team will return to start training a group of officers in local law enforcement who will be part of a Crisis Intervention Team. They will undergo 40 hours of training, on top of the 15 they've already received in their law enforcement academy, in dealing with subjects suffering from mental health issues.

"Number one, we want to train them on how to recognize mental illness and other disorders and then how to de-escalate that," Kamin said. "Also, just as important, give them more knowledge of the local system."

There are a number of mental resources available in Genesee County that could assist officers in the field but knowledge about those resources isn't evenly distributed through local law enforcement. One of the program's goals is to map out all of those resources and provide officers with the information.

"It's a good opportunity for us to take a step back and see what other communities are doing so that when we bring the report back to the Genesee County we can say 'hey, over here in Monroe County, over in Westchester, or over in Albany County, they're looking at these practices. Have you considered moving in that direction?' " Giuliano said. "We can try to integrate the best practices throughout New York State and get them spread to all the different communities."

New York's program is part of a national trend toward providing police officers with additional mental issue crisis intervention training -- this year the state's law enforcement academies will require 20 hours of training -- and creating crisis intervention teams.

"The goal here is to divert people from the criminal justice system when at all possible and get them the support they need," Kamin said. "This isn't a get out of jail free card. If folks, regardless of the level of mental illness, commit a serious crime they're going to be arrested; they're going to 14 West Street, but many times they don't need to be sent there and we want to intervene."



January 6, 2018 - 2:06pm
posted by Billie Owens in Alzheimer's, dementia, mental health, batavia, news, Announcements.

Press release:

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive and fatal brain disease that is the most common form of dementia.

“The Basics: Memory Loss, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease” is a free class presented by the Alzheimer’s Association Western New York Chapter for anyone who would like to know more about the disease and related dementias.

The program will be offered at The Manor House (427 E. Main St.) in Batavia at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 10.

Attendees will learn:  

  • Symptoms and effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia
  • How Alzheimer’s affects the brain
  • Causes and risk factors
  • How to find out if it’s Alzheimer’s disease 
  • The benefits of early detection
  • Treatment
  • Resources in your community, including the Alzheimer’s Association WNY Chapter  

There is no cost to attend this public presentation, but registration is encouraged by calling 1.800.272.3900.

August 1, 2017 - 1:54pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in genesee county, crime, health, mental health, news, Announcements.

How do rural counties with limited resources combat an issue as multifaceted as heroin and opiate addiction?

Quite simply, they collaborate to find common-sense practices to beat the dragon.

In January, officials, doctors, healthcare providers, and community members from three counties -- Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming -- formed the GOW Opioid Task Force.

Its goal is to not only raise awareness of the growing epidemic but to also find and compile: a list of resources available to addicts and their families; data on the number of overdoses, deaths, and uses of naloxone within each county; and identifying roadblocks to treatment.

During the July meeting, a roadmap of sorts was laid out for the Task Force.

From the time an individual is born, they are, to some degree, rated on performing tasks independently. Doctors gauge a child’s progress: Sits independently. Walks independently. Teachers grade a student’s performance: Works independently. It’s a skill desirable to some employers: Must be able to work independently.

It is a mantra instilled in a person's mind from a very young age: Be an individual. Don’t follow the crowd. Learn to be independent. Yet, there are times, when being independent becomes counterproductive to the needs of a community.

Although each of the GOW counties are afflicted with the same problem – the increase in overdoses and deaths due to heroin and opiates – independently, there are gaps in services and help for both addicts and their families. However, collectively, the Task Force can help fill those gaps.

In an effort to find where each county is lacking and how to get funding for the resources it needs, the Task Force determined three areas to address: community education and action, data compilation and access to care.

Community education and action

Three goals were created to better educate the public:

    • Educate students, parents and community about the dangers of heroin and opioid use – Narcan training and education, sharps and medicine disposal sites, and develop materials for distribution;

    • Identify resources and local partnerships to help prevent use – pharmacies, law enforcement, recovery services, and mental health service; and

    • Develop recommendations for future goals and action steps to prevent use – encourage attendance and participation in Task Force meetings, recovery coaching, peer speakers, and more.


Part of the requirements for applying for State funding is to have the data and statistics to back up the need. However, compiling those numbers becomes a collaborative effort between multiple agencies. Additionally, the task is further hindered by the fact that the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s (ME) Office handles cases from its own and the GOW counties. Subsequently, toxicology reports are often not received back for six months or more.

According to a recent report, the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office has performed 1,020 autopsies in 2016. In 2015 it was closer to 900. In 2008 approximately 975 were performed and in 2005 860. The years 2012 and 2013 both showed approximately 880.

The goals of this group are to develop a tool to track data, identify the data each county already has, and perform a gap analysis to identify missing data and create a plan to overcome any barrier.

Access to care

Again, a barrier addicts and family members face is access to care in relative proximity to where they live.

Officials say when an addict is ready to get the help they need to begin the recovery process, there is an immediacy to their need.

One of the goals of this group is to map out the access to care in the Western Region Naturally Occurring Care Network (NOCN).

The NOCNs include the Finger Lakes, Monroe, Southeastern, Southern, and Western regions of New York State.

In addition to finding a place to receive care, the group also identified eight groups of potential entry points for families and individuals in crisis. They include hospital emergency rooms, crisis hot line, primary care physicians, law enforcement, community-based organizations, healthcare homes, community-based groups, and schools and colleges.

Nationwide, every 17 minutes someone dies from an opioid overdose. About two years ago, there were 100 deaths in Erie County. In 2015, it more than doubled. In 2016, that number could reach over 500. That’s about 10 per week. February alone recorded 23 overdose deaths in just one week.

In Wyoming County, between 2010 and 2014 the number of opioid-related emergency department admissions increased 47.6 percent – 42 and 62. The number of opioid-related inpatient hospital admissions rose from 61 to 91 respectively – a 49.2-percent increase. 

According to a recent article in The Batavian, there were five deaths in Genesee County that the Monroe County Medical Examiner attributed to the overuse of opiate-related drugs in 2013.

In 2016, 17 deaths with toxicology completed were attributed to drug mixtures that included opiates, with four toxicology reports for last year still pending.

To date in 2017, there are seven deaths where toxicology is still pending.

Of the 17 known OD-related deaths in 2016, only five were attributed to heroin mixed with other drugs, whether prescription drugs and/or over-the-counter medications. (Note: the ME for 2016 was Erie County.)

There were nine deaths caused by a combination of prescription opiates mixed with other drugs.

There was one death caused by "acute and chronic substance abuse."

Of the 18 overdose deaths in 2015, 14 involved prescription opiates used in combination with other drugs and two were caused by heroin used in combination with other drugs.

In 2014, there were 12 drug-induced deaths. Nine of the 12 involved prescription opiates combined with other drugs. Heroin, used singularly or in combination with other drugs, contributed to three deaths. 

Between 2010 and 2014 those who were admitted for treatment for any opioid in Western New York was 7,679 in 2010. By 2014, the number of people seeking treatment rose by almost a third – 10,154 – a 32-percent increase.

Across the state, those in treatment for heroin use was 55,900 in 2010; in 2014, the number was 77,647. Deaths across the state due to heroin overdose increased 163 percent (215 in 2008, and 637 in 2013) and opioid overdoses increased 30 percent (763 to 952).

While nearby counties like Erie and Monroe have access to more mental health services and rehabilitation centers due to their populations, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties struggle to find those same services closer to home for their residents.

The next meeting date and time for GOW Opioid Task Force to be determined.

For more information, Kristine Voos at [email protected]

October 7, 2016 - 12:59pm
posted by Billie Owens in mental health, hollywood beauty salon, GCC, news, Announcements.

Information provided by Mental Health Association of Genesee & Orleans Counties:

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County is hosting a film screening on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Stuart Steiner Theatre at Genesee Community College.

The docu-film is "Hollywood Beauty Salon" and it is part of a film series about mental illness called the Reel Mind.

The film portrays life at an intimate beauty parlor inside the NHS Germantown Recovery Community, a nonprofit mental health program iin Philadelphia, where staff and clients alike are in the process of recovery. By gathering together to get their hair done, share stories, and support one another, they find a way to rebuild their lives.

It was work-shopped at the Salon over the course of four years and is also part of the recovery process, and the subjects of the film played an active part in shaping their own narratives and determining their unique individual styles.

Doors open at 6 p.m. and the movie starts at 6:30.

There's a suggested donation of $5.

There will be a Q & A session afterward with Rachel "Hollywood" Carr, owner and operator of the Hollywood Beauty Salon in Philadelphia, filmmaker Glenn Holsten, and Rochester Psychiatric Center's Dr. Lawrence Guttmacher, who is co-director of the Reel Mind Film Series. Genesee County Suicide Prevention Coalition Chair Vern Saile will facilitate the discussion.

The screening at GCC is sponsored by: Living Opportunities of DePaul; Indepnedent Living of Genesee County; GCASA; Care + Crisis Helpline -- a program of YWCA of Genesee County; Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties.

Genesee Community College is located at 1 College Road in the Town of Batavia.

For questions or more information, please call the Mental Health Association of Genesee & Orleans Counties at (585) 344-2611.

April 23, 2016 - 12:57pm
posted by Billie Owens in mental health, First Responders, news, batavia, Announcements.

A free, first responder awareness workshop on trauma, PTSD and suicide prevention will be offered at the Genesee County Fire Training Center on Tuesday, May 10.

Two sessions are available: 2:30 to 5 p.m. or 6 to 8:30 p.m. The fire training center is located at 7690 State Street Road in Batavia.

Seating is limited. Please register by May 3.

The workshop will be presented by Cattaraugus County Sheriff Timothy S. Whitcomb.

Sheriff Whitcomb has been in law enforcement for 26 years. He is a former adjunct professor of Criminal Justice for Jamestown Community College and St. Bonaventure University. Presently, he instructs through local academies and the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services. He has a master's degree in Counseling Education and is a certified police instrutor in the areas of Interview and Interrogation, Basix and Advanced Juvenile Officer Training, Investigation of Sex Crimes and Law Enforcement Response to School Violence.

For more information or to register, contact the sponsoring organization -- the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties at 344-2611 or via e-mail at   [email protected]

The workshop is being offered in partnership with the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County in conjunction with the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and Genesee County Emergency Services.

March 26, 2016 - 1:11pm
posted by Billie Owens in opioids, crime victims week, addiction, mental health, news.

This information was provided by Sue Gagne, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties:

National Crime Victims' Rights Week is April 10-16. Communities nationwide, aided by the Office for Victims of Crime, will hold observances. This year's theme is "Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope" and the aim is to underscore the importance of early intervention and using victim services in establishing trust with victims in order to begin to restore their hope for healing and recovery.

In Genesee County, starting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, April 15, there will be a Ceremoninal Walk and Reception at the Old County Courthouse (Downtown Batavia at the corner of routes 5 and 63). For more information, call Theresa at 344-2550, ext. 3920.

Prior to that date is Criminal Justice Day, Tuesday, April 12, and there will be a half-day event at Genesee Community College titled "The Opiate Epidemic: The Unintended Victims." It runs from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Conable Technology Center, 1 College Road, Batavia.

Cost to attend is $10 per person; $5 for students. Seating is limited; first come, first served. Registration forms are due by April 4. Checks should be made payable to the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties. For more information, call 344-2611.

According to the event brochure, heroin use has increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. Some of the greatest increases occured in deomgraphic groups with historically low rates of heroin use -- women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes.

Nor only are people using heroin more than ever, they are also abusing multiple other substances, especially cocaine and prescription opioid painkillers.

Law enforcement officials say history teaches that American society can't arrest its way out of the drug problems it faces. While effective enforcement is esstantial to protecting cities and neighborhoods, reducing drug use requires a broader, multidimensional approach.

Scientists say that it is clear that addiction is a progressive disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated and recovery is possible.

In addition to the college, the event on opioid addiction and its unintended victims is presented by these 2016 Criminal Justice Day partners:

  • Batavia Police Department
  • Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (GCASA)
  • GC District Attorney's Office
  • GC Sheriff's Office
  • GC Youth Bureau
  • Genesee Justice
  • Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties
  • RESTORE Sexual Assault Services
  • YWCA of Genesee County 

Keynote speakers are Mike Covert, police chief of Cooperstown, and Alexis Pleus, a structural engineer and mother of three sons who lost her oldest son to a heroin overdose in 2014.

Under Covert's leadership, the police department made a "revolutionary change" in the way it responds to the opiate crisis. He implemented an initiative last Thanskgiving called PAARI -- Police Assisting Addicts Toward Recovery Initiative. It allows addicts to walk into the Cooperstown Police Station with drug paraphernalia or drugs to ask for help and not be charged with a crime. Instead, they are walked through the system toward detox and recovery with the assistance of an assigned "ANGEL" who guides them through the process -- not in hours or days but on the spot. Since its implementation, 45 people have enrolled in the program.

Pleus has used her experience with addiction and the stigma she faced to start an organization called Truth Pharm, which works to raise awareness, reduce the stigma, implement programs, and advocate for policies that have a profound impact on the opioid epidemic.

The day's agenda is as follows:

8:15 to 8:45  -- Registration

8:45 to 9  -- Flag Raising

9 to 9:15 -- Welcome and Introductions

9:15 to 10:15 -- Keynote Speakers

10:15 to 10:30 -- Break

10:30 to 11:45 -- Panel Discussion: Impact on the Community

11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. -- Pharmacology of Opiates 


January 12, 2016 - 11:05am
posted by Howard B. Owens in jail, mental health.

As the state has cut mental health services, counties have become increasingly burdened with dealing with de-institutionalized people who often wind up in trouble and in jail.

Locally, people involved in the criminal justice system would like to find ways to keep people with mental health issues out of jail, and to that end the county will apply for a grant to send five people to a summit in Washington, D.C., where local officials from across the country will discuss how they're dealing with these same issues.

"Everyone in the criminal justice community agrees this is an issue and it's an issue that is bigger than just us, so let's go talk with others in other communities and find out ways that worked in their communities and see if we can bring back some of those ideas to Genesee County," said Assistant County Manager Matt Landers.

Landers said Sue Gagne, director of the Mental Health Association, found out about the summit and grant for attendees and brought the idea to Undersheriff William Sheron, who brought it to Landers' attention.

Landers and Director of Mental Health Ellery Reeves presented a resolution authorizing an application for the grant to the Human Services Committee on Monday.

The committee unanimously recommended the full Legislature approve the application at its next meeting.

Though there are no hard numbers, it's clear there are more and more people coming into the jail who have mental health issues, Landers said.

"That number is growing and we don't think it's a coincidence that as the state is closing down institutions and these individuals leave these institutions and come back to their communities of home, that we are now finding some of these individuals using our jails," Landers said.

Mental health issues run the gamut, including depression and schizophrenia, that jail personnel are required to monitor. That adds to the expense of running the jail as well as increasing the jail population.

There's also substance abuse problems connected to these individuals, Reeves said.

"There is no separation," Reeves said. "Literally, when you're saying 'mental health,' you're saying 'mental health and substance abuse.' "

The goal of attending the conference is to find ways of linking services and strategies to either keep people out of jail or keep them in treatment once they're released from jail so they are less likely to return, Reeves said.

Landers said as much of 70 percent of the people incarcerated here at any one time might have mental health issues, which is substantially more, he said, than a few years ago.

December 23, 2015 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Darien, mental health, synthetic drugs, bath salts.


Ryan C. Bergman
Photo courtesy the Bergmans

Just before Thanksgiving, 2013, a month before his death, 26-year-old Ryan C. Bergman sat at the dining room table after an evening dinner with his parents in their home on Fargo Road, Darien, and talked with his mother about his mental health.

At age 10, his fourth-grade year, all his troubles seemed to start, Ryan told his mother as they talked through his life on a chilled and snowy November evening.

That made sense, Bernadette Bergman said. She always thought there were two turning points, downhill points, really, for her son — when he was 10 and when he was 13.

Ryan spent that fourth-grade year with a Pembroke teacher whom Bernadette described as rude, cruel and largely uncaring about Ryan’s struggles.

Bright, articulate but unable to stay focused, Ryan was a misfit among his peers. He was oblivious to social norms, craved attention and found it difficult to complete his assignments in the manner expected by his teacher.

To a public school teacher with 30 other kids to manage and guide, Ryan was, perhaps, more like a distraction than a promising literary master, a potential mathematician or computer scientist.

Bernadette, herself a teacher, recalled one parent-teacher conference that didn’t go well.

She had a notebook with her from a parenting workshop with information meant to help a student like Ryan, but Ryan’s teacher dismissed the binder and its contents as useless.

“She literally, right in front of me, ripped it apart page by page,” said Bernadette, mimicking the teacher ripping page after loose-leaf page from the book.

“‘Oh, he doesn’t need that. He doesn’t need that,’” Bernadette recalled her saying.

“If you’re rude to the parent, you can imagine what she was like in the classroom,” Bernadette said.

Her husband Richard added, “We learned from other kids later that when he got kicked out of class, he would go to the class of the grade above and he would just be rolling around in the back and the teacher would ask the class a question and nobody would know the answer, no hands would go up, and Ryan would yell out the answer. He wasn’t even paying attention and he would know the answer and shout it out.”

The first inkling the Bergmans got that Ryan might be struggling to find his place in the world came after a day out sledding with neighbors who had children right around Ryan’s age.

Ryan was a bit disruptive and the other mother told Bernadette that Ryan was “a little wild.” Bernadette was unfazed. He was just a squirrelly kid.

Later, at a pool party with the same family, Ryan found ways to irritate both children and adults. He would annoy, pester and bother, ignoring the social signals other children might decipher and realize their behavior went a little too far.

“Ryan would just do aggravating things to get people’s attention,” Richard said. “Like, he might poke you under water. He wasn’t nasty, maybe borderline nasty, just to get their attention, with it never clicking in his brain that maybe they were going to want you around less.”

Ryan was trapped in a world where his verbal skills allowed him to converse knowingly with adults, but as a matter of age and experience, his time was properly spent with children, and typically, children with minds that couldn’t grasp his meaning and tongues muted by more limited vocabularies.

Ryan’s mind worked fast, fueled by a voracious appetite for printed words.

He was reading above his grade level when he started kindergarten.

“It was like a switch,” Richard said. “A switch went off and he could read and that was it. He could read.”

From kindergarten on, he always had a book open, if not in his hand, within arm’s reach.

“He would read everything,” Bernadette said. “He would read anything. You couldn't be any place and he wouldn't read. He would read the toilet tissue roll, you know what I mean. He just loved the language. He spoke early. He loved to play with words. When he was real little he would say things like 'uppy duppy, potty watty,' all the rhyming stuff. He would just do it naturally. Ryan just loved it. He just loved the language.”

The Bergman’s think Ryan’s advanced skills with the English language drove some teachers crazy. One counselor warned Ryan’s teachers not to engage with him verbally, “because he’ll just chew you up.” Some teachers couldn’t accept that this elementary school student might be smarter than they were. 

“There’s always going to be kids who are smarter than you,” Bernadette said. “I don’t care who you are, just suck it up and embrace it, you know, because there’s other things you can teach them. In Ryan’s case, it was organizational skills.”

The lack of organizational skills is what led to Ryan’s second turning point, downhill, when he was 13, in sixth grade. Ryan was accepted into an advanced mathematics program at the University at Buffalo.

It was an odd fit. Ryan, the word guy in an advanced math class at a university. He really wasn’t good with numbers, but his innate ability to reason through puzzles made higher level mathematics, where it becomes more about theory and logic than formulas, easy.

Except for one problem: Ryan didn’t grasp how he arrived at his answers. In mathematics, where part of the problem-solving regime is showing your work, Ryan couldn’t explain how he arrived at his solutions.  He got the answers right, he just didn’t know how he got there.

Also, he often didn’t turn in his homework.

"In his mind, 'OK, here's the homework,' ” Richard said. “ 'I did the homework. It's done.' But you have to turn it in. You have to hold onto that piece of paper, you've got to take it with you, you got to turn it in, but in his mind, 'I did it.’ ”

Pok-e-Mon was big at the time and Ryan had a collection of cards. When Bernadette met with the UB teacher about her son’s difficulties in the class, the teacher had a hard time buying that Ryan innately lacked organizational skills.

The teacher noted Ryan’s well organized box of Pok-e-Mon cards. Surely, that was proof, she said, that he was capable of being organized when he was motivated.

“I told her, ‘One, I organized them for him so he would fit in, so that he could use them,' ” Bernadette said, adding, “ ‘but, two, he lost them here. He has no clue where they are.’ ”

Ryan was devastated when he was sent back to a regular math class at Pembroke.

“He just shut down the math side,” Bernadette said. “He was embarrassed. Here was something he could have flourished at, but now he’s back at Pembroke.”

And none of the professionals picked up on Ryan’s growing mental issues.

“The tip off (to the professionals) should have been, verbally, he was very strong, in the 99.8 percentile, but the math part, he lagged behind,” Richard said. “That’s usually a tipoff that something is going on. When you get into the gifted math program, you go, ‘How can that be?’ ” But on standardized testing, he was superior in language and was behind in math.”

Even in areas where he should have excelled socially, he became a pariah.

In the pre-Internet days, computer geeks formed social clubs, called LAN groups (LAN: local area network). They would bring their bulky desktop computers to a group member’s house, string them together with Ethernet cable and a network hub and play computer games.

“He was very good with computers,” Richard recalled. “He would, you know, actually read the manuals. He was able to do things other kids couldn’t.”

For some kids, superior knowledge is a pathway to friendship. I help you and you help me. For Ryan, he could use his advanced computer skills to bully the other kids.

“It got to the point where he (the kid who hosted the group) didn’t want Ryan coming over any more,” Bernadette said. “He didn’t want Ryan over because his other friends didn’t want him over. He would screw up their computers and sitting next to them, he would aggravate them either physically or verbally.”

Like many children with attention difficulties and a tendency toward hyperactivity, Ryan was prescribed drugs, such as Ritalin. Sometimes, Ryan would take his medication as prescribed. Sometimes, he wouldn’t. He would hide his pills around the house and then take several pills at once just to see what it was like.

A psychologist — the same one who warned teachers Ryan could out talk them — told the Bergmans that children like Ryan, superior verbal skills, struggling to fit in socially and academically, who were once at the top of their class, but lost their way as organizational skills become a part of the educational process, typically become depressed and take their own lives.

At age 16, Ryan tried to do just that, using the prescription medication he had available to him.

“He was still under care of this doctor and still going to Pembroke,” Richard said. “The doctor was like, ‘I didn’t see this coming.’ And we thought, ‘You’re the one who warned us and now you say you didn’t see it coming?’  ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I thought his ego strength was so large that he would never do it.’ And we were like, ‘His ego strength is there because he’s covering up for the fact that he doesn’t fit in.’ ”

Richard and Bernadette Bergman have all the attributes of ideal parents — steady jobs, a stable home life, community involvement, an active church and social life, and an abiding desire to be parents.

Ryan isn’t the first child Richard and Bernadette tried to adopt. First, there was Jeffrey, a special needs child who has never lived with them, but still has a room in their house and often spends the holidays, some weekends and other special days with the Bergmans.

Jeffrey is now 46 years old and lives in a group home in East Aurora.

“We call him our voluntary son,” Richard said.

Then Richard and Bernadette learned of a single mother who was going to give birth to a baby girl, so they arranged through an attorney to adopt that child upon her birth.

Preparations were made, documents signed and on the day the child was born, Richard and Bernadette were waiting for the child to be brought to them from the hospital when they learned the mother had changed her mind.

The Bergmans were disappointed. The attorney felt horrible about the turn of events. He promised, “when the next child becomes available, you’re at the top of the list.”

It was 1987. A 15-year-old girl in Erie County gave birth to a little boy. He became Ryan Bergman. He came to live with them in their turn-of-the-century home in a little hamlet in the Town of Darien that once was known as Fargo Village, with a train station on the Delaware, Lackawana & Western Railroad line and a little schoolhouse at Fargo and Sumner roads.

At some point in Ryan’s young life, the Bergmans learned through a sister of the birth mother that the young lady had her own struggles with alcohol, as did her father.

Scientists are still learning about the role of dopamine (a biological chemical critical to brain and body functions) in people’s lives, but it is an apparent factor in drug and alcohol abuse and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These traits could be hereditary.

The Bergmans knew this.

“We warned him, 'Smoking, alcohol, anything you can be come addicted to, you can become addicted to, because there seems to be a correlation,' ” said Bernadette, who has long been involved the Genesee County Mental Health Association.

From a young age, Ryan had a preoccupation with alcohol, not that he was drinking at a young age, but he talked about it, asked questions about it, was curious about it.

There wasn’t much alcohol around the house, though Bernadette liked to have an occasional drink, but Ryan was fixated on the idea of alcohol.

“He was obsessed with talking about it,” Bernadette recalls. “In our mind as lay people, that just seemed, you know, an obsession.”

The response of GCASA (Genesee Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse)?

"We don't see any problem here. Kids always talk about alcohol."

Ryan decided he was Irish. And the Irish, of course, have a reputation for boozing it up.

“He was starting to embrace the idea by the time he was a teenager,” Bernadette said. “We have no idea if he has any Irish blood in him or not, but he decided he was going to be Irish.”

Ryan started going to parties with friends. Richard and Bernadette weren’t sure if there was alcohol involved or not, but they suspect there was, then one night he came home plastered.

They think Ryan might have been the one supplying the drinks. He had a job. He had money of his own to make the purchase. He was savvy. He could have been buying beverages and supplying them to his peers.

“It was a way for him to be accepted,” Richard said. “If you’re an outsider, this is an in. ‘I can get you alcohol.’ ”

Despite his struggles, Ryan did graduate from Pembroke High School, earning his diploma in 2005.

In August, he entered the Army, but washed out of basic training and was home by October.

It was tough for him to keep jobs. The Genesee ACE Employment program helped and Ryan landed one of his longer term jobs at the Kutter Cheese Factory, working there from July 2009 to February 2010.

He floated in and out of jobs and friendships, apparently using drugs and grappling with his mental health issues. He wound up in a program at GCASA and was working at Pioneer Credit when he met a woman who was 10 years older, married, with four children and a husband and a house in Oakfield. Ryan moved in with the woman and her children, along with the teenage friend of one of the woman’s daughters.

To support their drug habits, they got into property crime, along with a man who was recently released from prison and was on parole.

They broke into a fire hall in Orleans County and were caught because Ryan, disorganized, forgetful Ryan Bergman, left his mother’s mobile phone in the building. The night before the Orleans deputies showed up at the Bergman’s house, the group had broken into a gun club in Cowlesville and stole a computer.

Ryan insisted the woman wasn’t involved in his crimes.

“He was very loyal,” Richard said. “He wouldn’t turn her in because she had kids. He went to jail so she wouldn’t have to.”

He was sentenced to several months in the Genesee County Jail for breaking into cars, followed by weekends in the Orleans County Jail.

“Most parents worry about where their kids will be when they turn 21,” Richard said. “Ours was already in jail.”

He also spent nearly a year in the Erie County Jail when he was caught driving the wrong way on a street near the Buffalo Airport while high.

It was during this time, Ryan became friends with a person who already had some experience with bath salts. 

When a friend of the family lost a daughter to heroin, Ryan’s response was, “I don’t do heroin,” Richard recalled, “like it was a lesser drug.”

Bath salts, though, were the product of chemistry, and presumably safe because, at least at the time, they were legal.

They could be bought on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation, and soon thereafter at locations in the City of Batavia. But when law enforcement swooped in and cut off the local supply, Ryan turned to mail order.

Bath salts are easy to find and buy online and can even be purchased as “samples,” which makes hits more affordable.

“It was the best of both worlds,” Richard said. “It was an amphetamine and he could get high or whatever he was taking them for, and it was legal. At least that was the selling point in the beginning.”

The Bergmans were trying to get their son help in those late fall and early winter months of 2013. It was a struggle.

Certain synthetic drugs are known to induce paranoia, and Ryan may have tended toward suspicion already. When he was in the grips of synthetic drugs, he could distrust anybody and everybody.

A family friend, an attorney, named David, found him out and about and tried to help him. Ryan asked him, “How many pieces of silver was Jesus sold for?”

David said, “I don’t exactly remember.”

“See, David would know the answer to the question, so you’re not David.”

Eventually, David got Ryan home and told the Bergmans, “This kid needs to go to the hospital.”

They tried.

One time, Ryan was taken to a mental health institution and the social worker called the Bergmans at home.

“She said we can give him a ticket at the bus station, or he can stay in a homeless shelter or we can sign him into the facility for care.”

To Ryan, in-patient treatment was tantamount to jail.

“I was on my way there to read him the riot act and by the time I got there, he had sweet talked her -- he was very charming -- and he had her talked into letting him go to out-patient treatment,” Richard said. “He just had her wrapped around his finger and now I was the bad guy.”

Ryan didn’t think it did him any good to be taken to facilities in Buffalo, but he thought he might get help at the hospital in Warsaw, so when he would agree to be checked in someplace, he would agree to Warsaw.

But agreeing and actually getting there were two different matters.

Bernadette learned once the decision was made, she had to get the car started, the windows up and ensure the child safety locks were on. Otherwise, once he got into the car, if he did, he might try to escape at some point.

“We’d maybe go around and around for an hour before he would get in the car,” Bernadette said. “Twice, once we got to Warsaw, after we got there, he just ran off. Once a deputy found him at Tim Horton’s (Cafe).”

In December 2013, Richard Bergman realized there hadn’t been mail delivered to his house in a few days.

“I’d come home and Ryan wouldn’t be there, and I’d ask him where he was when I came home, and he said he went out for a walk to blow off steam,” Richard said. “Well, Thursday, there was no mail. Friday, no mail. Saturday, no mail. Then a notice comes and said, ‘OK, we’re restarting the mail you had suspended for three days.’ I asked him, ‘Did you suspend the mail?’ He said he didn’t know what happened, ‘but your name is on it.' ”

Richard confronted Ryan about getting drugs through the mail, but Ryan denied it.

The Bergmans now know that Ryan was getting samples of Alpha PVP from China delivered to their mail address. The evidence: an envelop with the synthetic drug and a packing slip arrived in the mail a couple of days after he died.

In December 2013, Alpha PVP was little known in the drug or law enforcement community, but over the past year news about its deadly effects have burst into the news under its most common street name, "Flakka," and those reports are what prompted the Bergmans to contact a local reporter more than a year after his initial interview request.

They’re very concerned about how easy it is for young people to buy these dangerous drugs. They don’t know the answer, but they think people should be more aware of what’s going on.

“If you can’t control in anyway how this stuff is getting into the country, you’re never going to be able to address it,” Richard said. “If it’s that easy to obtain, it’s like, how can you blunt that?”

Bernadette remembers sitting in court one time waiting for Ryan’s case to be called and another drug addict accused of a crime stood with his lawyer before the judge.

“The judge says to the lawyer, ‘How many times does he need to go to rehab?’ and I want to say, ‘As many times as it takes,’ and that’s basically what the lawyer said. We need lawyers to understand. We need judges who understand. That would all work easier if the insurance and medical professions had a greater interest in getting a handle on this. My fear is that maybe (bath salts) isn’t as big as heroin, but it’s just so easy to get. You can order it from the comfort of your own home and it comes in the mail and maybe kids see that as no big deal.”

The Sunday before Christmas 2013, Ryan didn’t want to be checked into Warsaw, so he was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital instead. His father brought him home Monday. He swore he didn’t have any drugs in his room.

“His room was a pig sty,” Bernadette said. “If he had any drugs in there, you could look for them and it would take you a week, so he swore, ‘Mom, there are no drugs here,’ well, obviously, that was a lie. He must have taken all he had.”

On Christmas Eve day, Bernadette knew something was wrong with her son.

“Clearly, he was not well,” she said. “I told him, you have two choices. I can take you to the hospital or I can call an ambulance. We got his bags packed and we’re ready to go and he says, ‘Mom, there’s a third choice. I can do outpatient.’  ‘Yes, but we need to get you stable first.’ Just like that, he takes off. He’s in this room. He’s in that room. He gets the poker (from the fire place) and runs into the bathroom and locks the door. I feel the gush of cold air and I know he’s opened the window.”

Bernadette doesn’t remember if she saw him running into the woods or if she just saw his footprints.

“In my head, I keep thinking I saw him running, but I don’t think so,” she said.

It was 10 degrees that day and Ryan was wearing nothing more than jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers.

She called emergency dispatch. She called her husband. He started home. At this point, she wasn’t scared.

“We’ve been through this before,” she said. “We’ve been through the paranoia before. We’ve called the cops before, and usually he heads down the old railroad bed in that same direction and he comes back, so it’s not like you’re thinking, ‘This is the end.’ You’re thinking, ‘We’re going through this again,’ but this time, he just kept right on going and went through the creek and got a way down the other side.”

The State Police arrived. Sheriff’s deputies arrived. Volunteers from the Darien and Alexander fire departments were deployed in a search of the area. After dark, the search was called off for the night.

It resumed the next morning, Christmas Day.

A volunteer from Alden -- a friend of the family, in fact -- found Ryan’s body.

Another friend, a fellow church member, Chief Deputy Gordon Dibble, Sheriff’s Office, delivered the news to Richard and Bernadette.

But they already knew.

“We don’t believe it was a suicide,” Richard said. “He did all of these risky behaviors that were kind of like, ‘If I die, I die. If I live, I live.’ He cracked up his car twice. It was almost like a sense of pride. After (the neighbor friend) died of an overdose, he told a social worker, ‘How come (the friend) can do it and I can’t?’ He would take these risky behaviors, knowing full well he could die, but probably not intentionally.”​

Previously on The Batavian:

May 14, 2015 - 4:14pm
posted by Billie Owens in Announcements, mental health.

Karl Shallowhorn, director of community advocacy, Mental Health Association of Erie County and Compeer of Great Buffalo, will present a FREE program focused on the impact of mental health in the workplace on Tuesday, May 19th. It will take place from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at Terry Hills Restaurant & Banquet Facility, located at 5122 Clinton Street Road, Batavia.

Topics to be covered include: the financial implications of depression among employees, rick factors and proactive management. In addition, information will be provided about the importance of self-care and managing stress in a demanding work environment.

Breakfast will be served. There is no charge for this program. Space is limited -- RSVP to the Genesee County Mental Health Association at 585-344-2611 or via e-mail to    [email protected]

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