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By appointment only: Mike Barrett winding down after 50-plus years at Batavia Marine

By Mike Pettinella
mike barrett
Mike Barrett is embarking on the next chapter of his life after more than 50 years at Batavia Marine & Sporting Supply. Photos by Howard Owens.

Please read: After 68 years we are winding down. Our hours will be by appointment only. Please call (585) 343-4131 and leave a message. A big “thank you” from the Barrett family for your patronage. Remember to vote and carry on the good fight.

With that handwritten message on a large piece of orange paper taped to the front door, Mike Barrett, owner of Batavia Marine & Sporting Supply, let the world know that he’s ready to begin a new phase of a retail sales career that began more than a half-century ago.

“It’s been good while it lasted, but you have to leave your heart and soul here,” said Barrett, 71, in a sit-down interview with The Batavian on Monday afternoon at his store at 413 West Main St. “I’ve been blessed with a mother (the late Mary) and wife (Donna) who have been very understanding over all these years.”

Founded by brothers Dave (Mike’s father) and Charlie in 1955, Batavia Marine was well-known as a hunting and fishing store that eventually ventured into sales of outboard motors, snowblowers, snowmobiles and camping equipment. One of Batavia's longest-running businesses, it also featured a huge selection of trapping supplies.

mike barrett

Mike Barrett went to work on a part-time basis while attending high school at Notre Dame before taking a full-time position in 1972. While he manned the store, his brother, Paul, focused on outboards.

“Actually, my grandparents at one time owned all of the land from here right over to Sport of Kings,” said Barrett, who recently returned from a trip to the Adirondacks with his wife, a longtime employee of the Genesee County District Attorney’s office who now works part-time at the Department of Motor Vehicles and County Clerk’s offices. “My dad also owned another Batavia business, Colt Clamp, which was started in the late 1800s.”

Barrett, who is recovering from a mini-stroke earlier this month, said, “The arrow has been pointing at retirement.”

“My health is not the best. I guess that pounding the floor for 50-plus years got to me,” he said. “Besides that, hunting and fishing have declined. It’s difficult to get stuff. It seems like everything is geared toward the mass merchandisers now.”

Although he has decided to accommodate customers strictly by appointment, Barrett said he’s not moving away from Batavia, and he’s not selling the building.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “There really is no definitive timetable (on liquidating the inventory).”

Barrett estimates that he has sold around 24,000 guns (rifles, pistols, shotguns, etc.) but admitted that sales have declined significantly in recent years.

mike barrett

“The kids don’t hunt and fish anymore, and the new gun laws have people scared to bring their guns out of the house,” he offered. “They’ve passed some stupid restrictions that really didn’t stop any crime.”

Batavia City Council member Rick Richmond, who worked at Batavia Marine for three years, including during COVID, said Barrett has served the city, county and region with the utmost integrity.

“Mike is one of the most honest people I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “I want to put this into perspective. I remember one time that he placed a fishing order. When the hooks came in – they come in a box of 12 – I recall him getting on the phone and calling up the distributor and saying, “Hey, I got my hooks. But one of the boxes had 13 hooks. Please send me the bill.

“He wanted a bill for a package of hooks that would sell for a dollar, sixty-nine!”

For his part, Barrett said he is fortunate to have married the former Donna Stearns, who grew up in Stafford, in 1986.

mike barrett

“She didn’t know what she was getting involved with,” he said with a chuckle.

Barrett said his “bucket list” doesn’t include any cruises or flights to Europe, just a couple of items – visiting a close friend in the Southern Tier and his sister, Emily, in New Jersey. His other sister, Liz, lives in Rochester.

Looking ahead, he said that “Hopefully, the Good Lord will let me live out a long retirement.”

“Most of all, I want to thank all the customers, especially the regulars (who made Batavia Marine & Sporting Supply a daily destination). I’m going to really miss them.”

Democratic Committee leaders to represent Erie County, Buffalo on WROTB board of directors

By Mike Pettinella

Two high-ranking officials of the Erie County Democratic Committee have been appointed to the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors.

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek informed The Batavian today that Jennifer Hibit and Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney, secretary and vice chair of the ECDC, respectively, will be joining the board and are expected to attend its next meeting on July 27 at Batavia Downs Gaming.

Hibit will represent Erie County, replacing Francis Warthling, while Rodriguez-Dabney will represent the City of Buffalo, replacing Michelle Parmer-Garner.

Wojtaszek also said that Terrance Baxter, a Republican and current Town of Moravia supervisor, will represent Cayuga County on the board. Baxter replaces Paul Lattimore.

The board was disbanded in May by New York State Assembly and Senate leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul in response to a proposal by Democratic State Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo to reconfigure the voting method from one municipality/one vote to a weighted system based on population.

As a result, the majority of the 100 votes are in the hands of directors from Erie and Monroe counties and Buffalo and Rochester.

Monroe and Schuyler counties have yet to announce their appointees to the 17-director board.

Hibit spent 11 years as the Chief of Staff for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz before taking a position as the director of Human Resources last year with the Erie County Water Authority. During her time with Poloncarz’ staff, she served as the campaign manager for his election and re-election campaigns. 

Rodriguez-Dabney, an attorney, recently accepted the position of Senior Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Before that, she served for 15 months as the First Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff for the City of Buffalo.

Baxter is a Member at Large on the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District board and is a former Cayuga County legislator.

As previously reported by The Batavian, the other board members are Charles Zambito of Elba (Genesee County), Edward Morgan (Orleans County), Susan May (Wyoming County), Mark Burr (Cattaraugus County), Vincent Horrigan (Chautauqua County), Thomas Wamp (Livingston County), Elliott Winter (Niagara County), Mark Bombardo (Oswego County), Dennis Bassett (Rochester), Richard Ricci (Seneca County), Michael Horton (Steuben County) and Kenneth Lauderdale (Wayne County).

The weighted voting system gives Erie County 24 votes, followed by Monroe County (20), Buffalo (10) and Rochester (eight). Niagara County also has eight votes, while Chautauqua has five; Oswego, four; Steuben, Wayne, Cattaraugus and Cayuga, three each; Livingston and Genesee, two each; Wyoming, Orleans, Seneca and Schuyler, one each. The directors will serve four-year terms.

HEALing Genesee banks on proven strategies to reduce opioid-related overdose fatalities

By Mike Pettinella
HEALing Genesee
Leading the HEALing Genesee initiative to reduce opioid overdose deaths are, from left, Columbia University research team members Louisa Gilbert, Nabila El-Bassel, Timothy Hunt and James David; Christen Foley, Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force coordinator; Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Department; Randi Johnson, physician assistant at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

A wide-ranging, cooperative effort is being made at the grassroots level to “HEAL” those afflicted by opioid use disorder and to prevent opioid overdose deaths.

Professionals in the substance use treatment/prevention and mental health fields in Genesee County have been working in conjunction with a research team from Columbia University over the past year to develop and implement evidence-based strategies as part of the HEALing Communities Study.

HEALing refers to Helping to End Addiction Long-term and is the catchphrase of a program launched by the National Institutes of Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The goal is to identify evidence-based programs that are most effective at the local level in preventing and treating opioid use disorder – with a target of reducing opioid-related overdose deaths by 40 percent.

HEALing Genesee is part of the second phase of the HCS, which will run through the spring of 2024. Other counties in this phase include Broome, Chautauqua, Cortland, Monroe, Orange, Sullivan and Yates.

Members of the Columbia University research team, along with officials from the NIH’s Institute on Drug Abuse, came to Batavia last week to meet with the Genesee County Health Department and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse personnel who have been serving on the county’s implementation team.

“Drug overdose requires a comprehensive approach to first define the breadth of the problem and then to promote harm reduction and evidence-based treatments known to be effective with opioid use disorder,” said Timothy Hunt, PhD, of the Columbia U. School of Social Work, who is the HEALing Communities Study Intervention and Community Engagement Investigative Lead.

“The partnership for the HEALing Communities Study between the Genesee Department of Health and organizations like Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse illustrates a community coming together, even when challenged by the COVID pandemic, to focus on this highly stigmatized public health crisis.”

Hunt applauded the Genesee group for its “commitment to capturing up-to-date data on fatal and non-fatal overdoses thus allowing the community to plan and focus strategies to populations and locations at high risk.”

HEALing Genesee leaders have identified several strategies to reach its goal, including various ways of getting naloxone (brand name Narcan) into as many hands as possible. Naloxone is a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose.

Initiatives include distribution of leave-behind kits by the Batavia City Fire Department, establishing a text-for-naloxone hotline (text KIT to 1-877-535-2461) and placing NaloxBoxes at businesses.

Columbia U. Professor Nabila El-Bassel, HCS principal investigator, said she was impressed with the amount of collaboration in Genesee County.

“The Columbia University team and our funder from the National Institute on Drug Abuse who visited Genesee HCS coalition extend our gratitude for their unwavering commitment to addressing the overdose crisis with a data-driven solutions and improving access to treatment and care for those in need in Genesee,” she said.

“Today, we witnessed the innovation in delivering drug treatment and services with high integrity and responsiveness to community needs.  The success of the Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force and HEALing Communities Study is also a testament to the extraordinary power of collaboration that exists.”

Staff from more than a dozen local agencies have collaborated with HEALing Genesee, including professionals from Genesee County Mental Health, Genesee County Department of Social Services, Genesee Justice, VA Medical Center, City of Batavia Fire Department, GCASA, Horizon Health Services, Rochester Regional Health (United Memorial Medical Center, Hope Haven Center and Batavia Primary Care), Oakfield Family Pharmacy, Oak Orchard Health and Lake Plains Community Care Network.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 2.1 million Americans have opioid use disorder, yet fewer than 20 percent of those receive specialty care in a given year. New York State has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in the nation, with Genesee County having one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in New York State.

The county’s opioid overdose death rate peaked at more than 36 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 and was still around 22 deaths per 100,000 in 2022. As a result, Genesee was selected as a HEALing Communities location.

Hunt concluded that HEALing Genesee, by virtue of its evidence-based strategies and robust communication campaigns, and with support from agencies such as GCASA, is on the right track.

“Our HCS partner, GCASA, provides needed care along a continuum of readiness, and is a rare accommodation to needed levels of care which include harm reduction, detox, rehabilitation and outpatient care, including much-needed access to methadone and Buprenorphine,” he stated. 

To learn more about the HEALing Communities Study and to help end overdoses in Genesee County, visit:

-- HEALing Communities Study Website:

-- GOW Opioid Taskforce Website:

-- GO Health Facebook:

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Scholarship recipients, 'friends' honored at GCASA event

By Mike Pettinella
GCASA 'Friends'
Receiving “Friends of GCASA” awards for 2023 are, seated from left, Heather Jackson, Jay Balduf, Megan Boring; standing, Patrick Cecere, Pam McCarthy, Scott Wooten, Matt Prawel, Lt. Bob Tedford.

Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse officials on Wednesday afternoon honored six “friends” of the nonprofit agency and five GCASA Foundation scholarship award winners at their annual meeting at Terry Hills Restaurant.

Friends of GCASA awards went to the City of Batavia Fire Department, Orleans County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Prawel, Patrick Cecere, Heather Jackson, Mercy Flight EMS and the United Memorial Medical Center MOMS Program.

Scholarship recipients for 2023 are Carly Cerasani, Arianna Hale, Valerie Pastore, Lauren Reimer and Lilly LeTourneau. They each received $1,000 for enrolling in fields relating to human services and/or social services.


-- City of Batavia Fire Department was recognized for its role in becoming the first Public Safety Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative fire department in New York State. It is one of only a few fire companies in the United States to take part in PAARI, which enables people struggling with substance use to reach out to police and fire department personnel for help, without fear of arrest.

-- Deputy Matt Prawel, a school resource officer for the Albion Central School District, developed a fentanyl awareness presentation to fifth through 12th graders, which includes a video about the deadly drug for families to view. He also is a leading member of the school’s prom awareness committee, and is committed to delivering the message of making safe and healthy choices.

-- Patrick Cecere works at the Genesee County Public Defender’s Office as a social worker/case manager. He consistently has assisted clients of GCASA as they navigate the legal system, advocating for all with fairness, professionalism and compassion.

-- Heather Jackson, an Orleans County Social Services caseworker and former probation officer, has worked collaboratively with GCASA counselors in various areas, notably assisting with patient-centered treatment plans and through programs that provide essential services to youth clients of GCASA. She also chairs Orleans County’s National Night Out, an event that brings law enforcement and community groups together in an alcohol- and drug-free setting.

-- Mercy Flight EMS, with its operations center on Call Parkway, Batavia, has been called on upon more frequently as GCASA’s medical needs have increased since the inception of its detoxification program, and was recognized for the “kind and respectful way in which personnel has interacted with clients.” Mercy Flight EMS staff also were commended for listening to GCASA’s clinical recommendations, especially when it comes to transporting individuals to other facilities.

-- The UMMC Moms Program, specifically Megan Boring and Jay Balduf, has partnered with the Health Moms/Healthy Babies initiative at GCASA. Boring and Balduf were honored for making themselves available to serve GCASA clients as a referral source to those who have yet to receive support for their substance use disorder. Boring has made great strides through her coordinator role of the Prenatal Task Force in Batavia, while Balduf shared her wealth of experience as a registered nurse and maternal health educator at UMMC Healthy Living.


-- Carly Cerasani, a 2023 graduate of Pembroke High School, who is considering attending Brown University in the fall to study Psychology, with a long-term goal of obtaining a doctorate degree. She aspires to improving others’ lives, especially children.

-- Arianna Hale, a 2023 graduate of Pembroke High School, will be attending Genesee Community College in the fall to study Humanities and Social Science, with plans to go on from there to earn a degree in Psychology.  She said that she wants to focus her energies on people who need care and support.

-- Valerie Pastore, a 2023 graduate of Byron-Bergen High School, plans to attend Alfred University in the fall to study Psychology. She seeks to work in the healthcare field, with an eye on helping people through research.

-- Lauren Reimer, a 2023 graduate of Batavia High, will be receiving her associate’s degree from Genesee Community College this spring through advanced placement credits. Her future college plans are to be determined, but she plans to study Biomedical Sciences.

-- Lilly LeTourneau graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz and currently is enrolled in the New York State Fellowship Program through the Genesee & Orleans Health Department. She has assisted in a project with Genesee County Mental Health to assess the impact of COVID-19 on mental health services. She is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of Buffalo.


Lynn Strzelecki and Bradley Mazur were elected as new members of the GCASA Board of Directors while President Tim Batzel and directors Jackie Dunham and Pattie Kepner were re-elected. All terms are three years.

Strzelecki is a previous GCASA director while Mazur, the Genesee County undersheriff, joins for the first time. Mazur is the chair of the Genesee County Stop DWI Advisory Council.

Batzel, Vice President Katie Cotter and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Rarick were re-elected.


In 2022, GCASA prevention educators provided services to more than 36,000 youth and adults, with the WNY Prevention Resource Center providing 18 trainings to nearly 500 people. The GOW Opioid Task Force lists 460 active members, with many of them trained in the administration of Naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.

On the clinical side, GCASA opened a 16-bed detox center in Batavia in early 2022. Medication programs now serve more than 300 individuals in two locations, with clinical visits topping 21,000 last year. The Genesee Opioid Treatment Program and outpatient clinic were awarded an integrated certification to create a seamless program for outpatient services.

GCASA scholarships
GCASA Foundation scholars for 2023 are, seated from left, Lauren Reimer, Lilly LeTourneau; standing, Carly Cerasani, Arianna Hale, Valerie Pastore.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Medications to treat substance use disorder are proven 'tools' in recovery, panelists say

By Mike Pettinella
town hall panel
Participants in Wednesday’s MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” at the Genesee County Office for the Aging are, from left, Dr. Samantha Gray, Randi Johnson, Reilly Climenhaga, moderator Paul Pettit, Kate Gregory, Daniel Hauck and Scott Davis. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Treating someone struggling with substance use disorder can take many paths, but the road to recovery can become much easier to navigate with the help of specific clinically proven medications.

That premise was brought to light on Wednesday night by six professionals in the substance use field – including two who have experienced the pain of addiction – who participated in a “MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” event at the Genesee County Office for the Aging.

The session was sponsored by the HEAL Initiative and Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force, with Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Departments, serving as moderator. About 45 people attended.

“I have sustained healthy sobriety for just under three years, and one of the tools I used to get that sobriety in my toolbox of recovery is buprenorphine,” said Reilly Climenhaga, a detox technician at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who said he has fought the substance use battle in his life for more than 20 years. “My issues and those of many others go much deeper than just the use of a chemical. There are many paths to sobriety for someone addicted to opiates, but I truly believe that using MOUD (Medication for Opioid Use Disorder) greatly increases a person's chances.”

The Food & Drug Administration has approved buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone to manage opioid use disorder, and those medications are available through local agencies such as GCASA, Horizon Health Services and Rochester Regional Health.

Pettit pointed out that opioid use disorder has been recognized as a chronic disease and these medications work by relieving withdrawal symptoms, addressing psychological cravings and lowering the risk of return to use and overdose death.

“And that is the goal of The HEALing Communities study (a countywide initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health and Columbia University) – to reduce opioid deaths by 40 percent,” he said, noting that data shows that Genesee County has one of the highest opioid overdose death rates in New York.

Dr. Samantha Gray, PhD, an advanced practice clinician at Horizon Health Service’s Batavia location and an adjunct professor at the University of Buffalo, emphasized that MOUD not only helps with substance use disorder but also with the mental health aspect that usually is a key part of the treatment process.

“Over at Horizon, we are an integrated clinic. So, we assess for both substance use and mental health,” she said. “For those of you who are familiar with this population, those two things generally go hand in hand.”

Randi Johnson, a physician assistant at GCASA who works at the agency’s detoxification facility and Albion outpatient clinic, said MOUD, despite what people may think, is not a matter of trading one drug for another.

“I think we've probably all heard that at one point or another. But the important thing to remember is that we are treating this like a disease,” she said. “So, if you go to your primary care physician, you have high blood pressure, you have diabetes, you have any number of other common complaints, we're going to give you a medication to help treat that.

“The beauty of MOUD is that we can use this to take away any withdrawal symptoms for patients. This allows them clarity … it gives them a good baseline that they can function at, so that they can work with the counselors to change the behavioral aspect of this.”

Johnson said she has utilized buprenorphine micro-inductions – a gradual process -- to successfully initiate many patients on buprenorphine.

For Daniel Hauck, a clinical supervisor at Hope Haven Inpatient Rehabilitation, RRH Chemical Dependency unit in Batavia, medication for opioid use disorder has evolved over the years, leading to his acceptance of the practice.

“As I’ve seen it evolve, I've seen that there's better access to those medications. And as we really see better outcomes, it becomes much easier to engage a patient who feels hopeless in that moment, to actually be willing to come into that first appointment and come back to that second appointment,” he offered. “Oftentimes, that hopelessness comes from times where they have tried and feel like they failed.”

Hauck, along with panelist Kate Gregory, a licensed master social worker who manages the chemical dependency unit at RRH and Hope Haven, said they have made great strides in expanding services locally.

Gregory said it was a matter of figuring out how to serve patients better by developing immediate access.

“We launched a community-based care where we were able to go out and really serve patients, where they are literally meeting patients where they're at -- figuring out how not to let the EMR (electronic medical record) stop us from getting creative, and instead really expanding our services to meet the patient at any stage in their recovery,” she said.

When RRH added peer recovery advocates, that was a game-changer, she said.

One of those peers is Scott Davis, who also took part as a panelist at the public forum. Davis is in his second year as a recovery coach and certified peer advocate with RRH and is in recovery after many years of substance use.

In and out of legal trouble, including stints behind bars, Davis said that MOUD as prescribed by a physician was a key factor in his recovery.

“When I went to inpatient (treatment) in 2019, fentanyl was everything in my life,” he said. “I had cravings in rehab but I chose to go to a higher dose (of MOUD). I talked to my doctor, he had a plan, and when I got out I went to the Atwater (Community Residence) halfway house.”

It was there that Davis said he finally found the support system he needed, and eventually went to work for GCASA as a peer, before joining RRH as a recovery coach.

The panelists also shared their thoughts about the stigma attached to substance use disorder – perceptions among friends, family members and the community that can affect a patient’s self-worth.

“I think that, as a mental health or addiction therapist, it’s really important to just acknowledge that that exists. That validation alone can be huge,” Gregory said. “It’s also really important to infuse the culture of your agency with the right language and with the right education and with the right trainings and expectations around what creates a welcoming environment for people.”

She acknowledged the differing views of community members, and said that continuing education through public forums such as this town hall meeting will help to change perceptions.

Johnson said a major hurdle is that patients tend to believe the negative things that are said about them.

“As much as the community stigmatizes them at times, they come in and they believe that so wholeheartedly,” she said. “And so, one of the conversations I usually have with my patients, because almost every single one of them will come in and say I failed my urine test today, that it’s not pass or fail. We have that education in the visits with them because I don't want them to feel like one use constitutes a failure.”

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

town hall attendees

About 45 people attended the two-hour session that explored the issues surrounding medication for opioid use disorder.

Possible restructuring of WROTB board of directors has local Republican lawmakers up in arms

By Mike Pettinella

Local New York State politicians are speaking out against a report that Democratic legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul are considering changes to the structure of the board of directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp.

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, all Republicans, issued statements Thursday and today, indicating their opposition to what they believe is a proposal to eliminate individual counties’ authority to select WROTB directors.

Press release from Tenney:

“For 50 years, Western Regional Off Track Betting has shared operational control between 15 county governments and the Cities of Rochester and Buffalo. Under this established system, Western Regional OTB has brought jobs, tax revenue, and entertainment to Western New York. Over the past two years, Western OTB returned over $13.9 million to offset local county taxes across Western New York,

“County leaders throughout New York’s 24th district have reached out concerned about efforts to dismantle, politicize, and disadvantage rural communities within Western Regional OTB. When ‘Home Rule’ created the ownership of Western Regional OTB, member counties were given equal representation. NYS Senate Bill 7855 would strip rural counties of their 50-year established authority of this public-private sector partnership in favor of Governor Hochul and left-wing legislators in Albany.

“I stand with local leaders across the district in calling on Kathy Hochul to drop this misguided plan. It should be dead on arrival during budget negotiations in the Albany sewer. With a budget that is nearly four weeks late, a crime surge, and historic mass outmigration, Albany Democrats should leave Western OTB alone and focus on the real problems facing New Yorkers.”

Press release from Borrello:

“Although they already control the major levers of power in Albany, that hasn’t stopped Democrat One-Party Rule for brazenly and continually hunting for more opportunities to conquer and silence those outside their control. Their latest power grab targets Western Regional Off-Track Betting which has operated for five decades under a model of shared operational control between 15 county governments and the Cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

"However, changes under consideration right now would eliminate this cooperative structure of the past 50 years and replace it with a politicized board that would do Albany’s bidding. The voices of our rural counties would be silenced and the jobs and revenue they depend on put at risk.

"I am fiercely opposed to this last-minute attempt to slide this controversial proposal into the budget as the final details come together. It is another shameful attempt at rigging the system for political purposes and should be rejected.”

Statement from Hawley:

Hawley called the proposal "a power grab trying to diminish the influence of smaller, less populated counties."

"It's called Western New York OTB, not Erie County OTB," he said, responding to a text message from The Batavian. "This is similar to what Western New York complains about in the State Legislature. Excessive control by New York City. Shameful and wrong."

WROTB President/Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek, contacted today, said he and Board Chair Richard Bianchi are monitoring the situation.

“We are waiting to find out what the actual language of the proposed legislation is before making an official statement,” Wojtaszek said.

Currently, the individuals serving on WROTB’s 17-member board, which represents its 17-member municipalities, are appointed by their county or city (Buffalo and Rochester) legislative bodies.

First-quarter financials have Batavia Downs Gaming officials predicting another record year

By Mike Pettinella

Just a few months removed from what Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials reported as a record year for revenue, signs are pointing toward even greater earnings for Batavia Downs Gaming in 2023.

“We experienced a record 2022 and now the first quarter of 2023 is up 16 percent in what we distribute (to member municipalities),” WROTB President Henry Wojtaszek said following this morning’s board of directors meeting at the Park Road facility. “It’s the highest net win by more than a half a million for the corporation, so it’s really been a blockbuster first three months of the year for us.”

Jacquelyne Leach, the corporation’s chief financial officer, provided a report to The Batavian that shows that distribution of surcharge and earnings to the 17 participating municipalities for the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same time period in 2022.

The numbers indicate that $2,269,956 in surcharge and earnings was generated this year compared to $1,956,149 in the first quarter of last year.

Genesee County’s share increased by 18 percent – from $42,002 to $49,664.

Leach also pointed out that the "net win" for March was the corporation's highest ever, $7.7 million. "Net win" is defined as credits played in the machines less credits won, she said.

Wojtaszek said Batavia Downs Gaming is bucking the trend in the gaming industry, citing information shared at a recent conference in Atlantic City.

“We heard that while the industry is doing pretty well as a whole, the indication is that the brick-and-mortar part of the casino (business) isn’t necessarily up, depending where you are, geographically,” he said. “But we’re clearly a brick-and-mortar operation and we’re clearly having a banner year. Our numbers are definitely up.”

He said he is optimistic that 2023 will exceed last year’s figures.

“(The first quarter) is usually the slow season. We’ve experienced no slowdown and now we’re coming into the busy part – with the Triple Crown, the concerts and many other events that we have here. So, we’re looking forward to a great 2023.”

On another front, Wojtaszek said a committee looking into the possibility of expanding The Hotel at Batavia Downs met on Wednesday and is leaning toward recommending the expenditure of up to $100,000 for a feasibility study and architect’s rendering.

“We’re going to be careful in our analysis of it and spending any money, but in order to figure out whether or not the expansion of the hotel is warranted, we’re most likely going to have an architect give us some drawings and have a market study done as to the return on the investment … if we do expand,” he said.

Following last month’s meeting, Wojtaszek mentioned the possibility of adding 42 rooms to the 84-room facility, but today he backtracked a bit.

“We discussed it yesterday and decided not to sit on a number at this point,” he said.

He pointed out that the hotel has been very busy and sold out on many nights, but wasn’t sure if “we’ve hit that tipping point to necessitate additional rooms.”

Wojtaszek also noted that an expansion would enhance the ease of guests’ entrance into the hotel.

“We want to make sure we have a safe drop-off area and convenient drop-off area for people,” he said. “Now, it’s a difficult situation relative to the drop-off and entrance to the hotel. We’ve acknowledged that and we’re trying to give a better experience to the guests arriving at the hotel.”

He did say that Downs’ officials will address the drop-off situation regardless of the decision on expansion.

Town hall meeting on May 3 in Batavia will tackle subject of medication for opioid use disorder

By Press Release

Press release:

While there are plenty of acronyms in the field of substance use prevention and treatment, not many are as relevant to today’s environment than MOUD.

The Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force, in conjunction with The HEAL Initiative, is continuing its effort to inform the public of the benefits of MOUD – medication for opioid use disorder – by hosting a public forum on May 3 at the Genesee County Office for the Aging at 2 Bank St.

The “MOUD Anti-Stigma and Awareness Town Hall” will feature six speakers, including two men who are in recovery, and will be moderated by Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee & Orleans Health Departments.

Registration is set for 5 p.m., with the session to run from 5:15 to 7 p.m. Registration is recommended but not required, and a light dinner will be served. Naloxone training will be offered following the presentation.

“The major insights that we are looking to share with the public are defining MOUD and illustrating its effectiveness in treatment,” said Christen Foley, GOW Opioid Task Force coordinator. “We hope that this town hall meeting is a step toward clearing up any misconceptions with MOUD and reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorder.”

The forum also will touch upon topics such as creating a supportive environment for those struggling with opioid use disorder and providing local treatment and recovery resources in the region.

Panelists are as follows:

-- Dr. Samantha Gray, PhD, an advanced practice clinician at Horizon Health Service’s Batavia location and an adjunct professor within the department

of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology at the University at Buffalo. She also has her own private practice.

Dr. Gray said she became invested as an advocate after her father passed away from an overdose in 2015. Her experience beyond the outpatient settings includes work with methadone programs, crisis response, homeless shelters, housing programs and community/resource coordination.


-- Reilly Climenhaga, a detox technician at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, who has recovery coach and peer advocate certifications.  He struggled with opioid use disorder for more than 20 years, and has been on and off since the age of 20. He had been taking Sublocade -- a once-a-month injection of buprenorphine.

Climenhaga said that MOUD, coupled with working a strict program of recovery, has changed his life for the better.


-- Randi Johnson, a physician assistant at GCASA for three years, working at the Albion outpatient clinic, at the detoxification facility and the methadone clinic. Previously, she worked in emergency room and urgent care settings.

Johnson said she has utilized buprenorphine micro-inductions to successfully initiate many patients on buprenorphine.

-- Scott Davis, who is in his second year as a recovery coach and certified peer advocate with the Rochester Regional Health system. In recovery for three years, he attributes his success to determination, faith, a strong support team and the application of medication for substance use disorder.

Davis works with clients through Monroe County treatment courts – providing guidance and peer support, providing transportation for same day/next day inpatient admissions, and other services, including reentry into society following incarceration.

-- Kate Gregory, a licensed master social worker who is the manager of Chemical Dependency at Rochester Regional Health and Hope Haven Inpatient unit.

A social worker since 2005, she has worked in both the mental health and chemical dependency fields in a variety of treatment settings, with direct patient care ranging from residential counseling, inpatient social work, jail counseling, community based crisis response and primary therapy.

Gregory, a RRH employee since 2018, was instrumental in overseeing the development of the system’s central access team to increase immediate access and response support across all RRH chemical dependency departments.

-- Daniel Hauck, clinical supervisor at Hope Haven Inpatient Rehabilitation, RRH Chemical Dependency unit in Batavia. He has worked in the substance use treatment field since 2005 across multiple states, having received Master Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor status, specializing in trauma-informed care, community engagement and crisis intervention.

Hauck also has worked as a treatment court liaison for the Tompkins County Drug Court.

To register for the town hall meeting, go to

Judge sends Abrams to county jail while attorneys attempt to uncover more about burglary allegations

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee County Court Judge Melissa Lightcap Cianfrini this afternoon remanded a Town of Alabama man to county jail for at least the next several days while attorneys on both sides look into the circumstances surrounding an alleged burglary on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation.

Isaac D. Abrams, 22, who apparently owns smoke shops and dispensaries on the reservation, was charged by State Police with second-degree attempted burglary, a Class C felony, in connection with an incident at a dispensary on the evening of March 10.

He was arrested on March 30 and subsequently released with non-monetary conditions pending today’s court appearance.

Abrams has been under intensive probation supervision as a result of previous criminal charges, including first-degree burglary of a dwelling, causing injury, a Class B felony, and third-degree assault, a Class A misdemeanor.

During today’s proceedings and in light of the latest charges, Cianfrini pointed out that the probation department has recommended the revocation of Abrams’ IPS status – action supported by Assistant District Attorney Andrew DiPasquale.

At that point, Fred Rarick, who has represented Abrams since 2018, claimed that the charges were “merely allegations” and that his client turned over recordings that will show that “some people have ulterior motives.”

Rarick said that Abrams was invited to mediate a dispute at the business, and that the business owner, Cassi Abrams, “notified state troopers that my client did absolutely nothing wrong.”

“It’s a little bit premature to revoke the IPS,” Rarick said, adding that Abrams has been doing well in mandated drug treatment court.

Cianfrini, however, indicated that Abrams tested positive for marijuana on Thursday, and at that point, asked both lawyers to approach the bench. Following a five-minute discussion – during which Rarick could be heard stating that Abrams was asked to assist in the dispute involving family members – Cianfrini rendered her decision.

“I’m not revoking the interim probation supervision, but these are serious allegations,” she said. “I am remanding you, without bail, at this point (to let the attorneys research this).”

Before being handcuffed and led out of court, Abrams pleaded with the judge to set him free as “I need to get more recordings, please.”

Abrams is scheduled to return to treatment court next Thursday – two days after a scheduled appearance in Alabama Town Court.

Outside the courtroom after adjournment, Rarick said he respected Cianfrini’s decision, “but it’s just very interesting that this allegedly occurred weeks ago and he was just recently arrested.”

“Severe allegations of an armed robbery and he threatened to kill somebody? He did go and talk to the troopers and he explained everything. There are recordings which, when we go to trial, will be brought out to find out what these motivations are.”

Rarick also said there is a co-defendant in the matter.

“We’ll have to talk to his attorney. I don’t know, I wasn’t there,” he said. “There’s a lot going on with Mr. Abrams. He had his dispensary and he had another dispensary that was burned down. His other dispensary was robbed. So, I’m going to be looking into the motivations of these people.”

Concerning the positive test for marijuana, Rarick said that he has been informed that Abrams possesses a medical marijuana card.

“This whole thing is about relations, land disputes and it’s so sad,” he said, noting that cousins are at odds with each other, “Things that are happening on the Reservation. It used to be who gets to have a fuel station and now it’s who gets to have dispensaries there – and there are dispensaries every 50 feet or so.”

Rarick said Abrams was accused of taking money from a safe.

“I do question that when there is an allegation that a gun was involved, why the troopers didn’t go out immediately -- they know where Mr. Abrams is – to find this guy,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense and I think that will come out in the trial once we get these people under a real oath versus a misdemeanor.”

Previously: Judge gives Tonawanda resident a chance to put his past behind him

GCASA expands substance use disorder care through psychostimulant support project grant

By Mike Pettinella

As the deadly drug fentanyl wreaks havoc in the United States, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths last year according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of psychostimulants also continues at an alarming rate.

Nearly one in five overdose deaths involve cocaine, one of a host of drugs (both illegal and legal) that are categorized as psychostimulants. More than 5 million Americans reported cocaine use in 2020, which is almost 2 percent of the population, and an estimated 6 million people misused prescription stimulants, such as amphetamines, in the past year.

The misuse of psychostimulants has spread to all populations in all settings, significantly contributing to the overdose epidemic in the U.S.

Locally, the professionals at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse have recognized the impact of drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and prescription stimulants (brand names Adderall, Ritalin, etc.), and the nonprofit agency has received funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration Rural Communities Opioid Response Program – Psychostimulant Support.

The grant, $500,000 for three years through July 2025, will allow GCASA to provide treatment and recovery services to those with psychostimulant use disorder along with prevention education strategies to address the condition and to reduce stigma associated with the disease.

Amy Kabel, assistant director of Grants & Projects, has been assigned as the HRSA RCORP-PS project director; Jarett LoCicero, (photo at left), has been hired as the project coordinator, and Lisa Schutt has been appointed as the project’s lead counselor. GCASA is accepting resumes for the prevention educator position and for peer advocate positions attached to the grant.

Already, project leaders have linked to a consortium that includes Genesee County Mental Health, Orleans County Mental Health, Oak Orchard Health and Lake Plains Community Health, and have started a community support group that meets from 2-3 p.m. every Tuesday at the County Building on East Main Street Road, Batavia.

“The program is very person-centered and we focus on connecting people to what they want and need to overcome the disorder and be successful in their recovery,” LoCicero said. “We understand that there is a huge mental health component and are fortunate to be able to partner with the agencies in our consortium.”

LoCicero said the grant opens the door for GCASA to expand its “continuum of care” philosophy that encompasses treatment, recovery, prevention, maintenance, transportation and supportive living programs.

“Psychostimulant use, cocaine and crack cocaine as well as meth, is an ever-increasing problem, especially among young people and those in “commonly overlooked populations such as the LGBTQ and Black communities,” he said. “Our goal is to reach as many people as we can.”

Kabel, a four-year employee at GCASA, said the project will be successful “because Jarett (who is in recovery) is very focused and understands what substance use disorder is all about.”

She said that more people are hearing about the support group and that residents of both Genesee and Orleans counties are in counseling programs led by Schutt.

The HRSA RCORP-PS project at GCASA offers prevention, treatment, and recovery services specific to individuals who struggle with psychostimulants. Those services include 24/7 peer support, case management, support group, transportation, recovery activities, wellness and fitness, parent and family support, insurance/resource navigation, hepatitis/HIV navigation and naloxone training.

Transportation to the support group at The Recovery Station is available by checking the schedule on The Recovery Station calendar on Facebook or by calling LoCicero at 585-664-4146.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

GOW Opioid Task Force, HEAL Initiative establish free, confidential ‘Text for Naloxone Line’

By Press Release


Press release:

The Genesee-Orleans-Wyoming Opioid Task Force has added another weapon in the battle to prevent opioid overdose deaths: a Text for Naloxone Line.

“We are very excited to offer this free and confidential text line to the community. Now, more than ever, it is vital to increase awareness and education about Naloxone and provide more ways to get it to those in need,” said Christen Foley, GOW Opioid Task Force coordinator.

To receive the Naloxone using the Text for Naloxone Line, text KIT to 877-535-2461.

When texting that number, individuals will be connected to the text line and prompted to answer a few brief questions, including the recipient’s name and address. The delivered kit also will include other resources, such as information on local services and video links on how to administer Naloxone and where to seek care following an overdose.

Naloxone (brand name Narcan, among others) is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration that reverses opioid overdose rapidly, It is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids.

Sometimes other drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine, are mixed or laced with fentanyl.

Five key facts about Naloxone are as follows:

  • It temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose from opioids, including heroin, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin), methadone, fentanyl, hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, hydromorphone and buprenorphine.
  • Naloxone is administered as a nasal spray, a prefilled device that sprays medication into the nose.
  • It will not harm someone if you give it to them and they are not overdosing on an opioid. Signs of an overdose may include constricted pupils, falling asleep or loss of consciousness, limp body, slow breathing, choking or gurgling sounds, cold or clammy skin.
  • It is one important step when helping someone who is overdosing. If you think that someone is overdosing on an opioid or another substance, call 911 immediately, and give Naloxone as quickly as possible – not waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.
  • It can potentially save a life. For more information about the medication, consult your doctor or pharmacist if you or someone you know is taking prescribed opioids or using illicit opioids.  You may also want to ask about naloxone if you work or volunteer in an environment where you may be able to help someone who is overdosing.

Submitted photo: The GOW Opioid Task Force and HEAL Initiative are sponsoring billboards promoting a Text for Naloxone Line in Genesee County. This one is up on Route 5, west of the city of Batavia.

Former Batavian's road to recovery aided by MOUD -- Medication for Opioid Use Disorder

By Mike Pettinella

Looking back at Scott Davis’ journey to recovery, it is clear to see that the Orange County native – and former Batavian – was ahead of his time.

Davis took his first sip of alcohol at the age of 11, escalated his drug use to LSD and ecstasy in his early teens and eventually became addicted to heroin and fentanyl, behavior that resulted in separate stints in rehabilitation, shock camp and prison.

Today, the 43-year-old Davis has been in recovery for more than three years. He has a good job as a certified peer recovery advocate for the Rochester Regional Health system, a loving fiancée, Heather, and a beautiful 18-month-old daughter, MacKenzie.

While his story may seem like the typical “former drug user who went to jail and came out on the other side” variety, there’s much more to it than that when you learn that Davis relied upon his instincts and intellect to turn his life around.

Even before it was accepted as a key component of substance use treatment, Davis said he embraced the concept of “medication for opioid use disorder” – MOUD for short.

In 2012, as he was fighting a losing battle against cocaine and heroin, Davis found out that there was medication available to counteract the hard drugs.

“I had spent time in county jail and nine months in prison shock (camp) after violating probation (stemming from burglary and other felony charges),” he said. “I went on methadone because I could not stop using heroin. The legal system did not understand the importance of medication. They said I was replacing one drug for another.”

Davis said neither law enforcement officials nor counselors supported his desire to use methadone at that time.

“The stigma was alive and well,” he said. “I tried to be responsible on it. It was working for a while. But they didn’t care; they did not approve of it. It was all judgment.”

He went to outpatient and inpatient treatment facilities but all he heard was that he needed to get off hard drugs without any so-called replacement therapy.

“It definitely wasn’t the person-centered care that we have today,” he said.

Davis recalled that he got into drugs as a result of his feelings of isolation as a kid and it only got worse after his mother’s death in 2008.

“After that, I went right to heroin,” he said, adding that it led to the destruction of his marriage six years later.

His legal problems continued as well when he tested positive for heroin and was sent to separate 90-day rehabilitation programs – St. Christopher Inn in Garrison and St. Joseph’s in Saranac Lake.

“During that time, I was using suboxone off and on,” he said, referring to another type of MOUD. “It was really difficult to maintain recovery for 14 months, having no resources, support, peers or maintenance services.”

Short stays in three jails and two more shock camps finally “led me to where I’m at today,” he said. “I was valedictorian (in the camp class) and was successful each time I was evaluated for meeting certain criteria. I am proof that you can bounce back physically.”

He was still living downstate at that time when he was paroled to Batavia in December 2016.

“I was sent to live with my father (David, who died of cancer in January 2021) and my stepmom in Batavia,” he said. “I was able to complete one semester of a college course online as I wanted to become a counselor, while using suboxone.”

Unfortunately for Davis, he hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. He succumbed to his demons once again, and started using crack cocaine, heroin and “a full year hard core on fentanyl,” he said.

“I sold everything that my father had and everything I had, and I drained all the bank accounts,” he noted.

From there, it was on to Hope Haven (a RRH facility) and then to the Atwater Community Residence, a program of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. He successfully completed his time at Atwater before he was admitted into GCASA’s Supportive Living program for 18 months.

He credits peer advocates and Atwater Residence staff at GCASA for helping him to set some goals and sharing their life experiences.

“They and all the staff at The Recovery Station, another GCASA program, inspired me, motivated me and encouraged me,” he said. “They saw something in me before I could see it myself.”

He also mentioned a close friend, Toby Nagel, who runs The Bridge House in Batavia, for providing a spiritual component.

“Toby was there for me and still is,” he said.

Knowing that he had to stay in recovery to get a job as a peer advocate, he attained that goal in September 2020 when GCASA offered him a position. A year later, he was hired by RRH as a recovery coach, peer advocate who works with clients through Monroe County treatment courts – providing support, transportation and other services.

“It’s a very fulfilling position,” Davis said. “Aside from providing support and encouragement to individuals who accept treatment court and/or are coming out of jail, we provide bed-to-bed transportation for individuals going straight to inpatient from jail.

“Transportation is very important for those who have made that decision to get help, and the peers play a key role by providing not only rides but as caring listeners in these individuals’ road to recovery and a better life.”

As far as MOUD is concerned, Davis was prescribed suboxone.

“I had hard-core cravings for fentanyl and it was my personal choice to go on the suboxone,” he recalled. “I knew that suboxone, at that time, was going to save my life.

“I trusted what the doctor at GCASA said and I could see that he was on my side all the way,” he said. “We had a plan, and I knew I was going to be successful. Today, I am working the plan for my life.”

His advice to others was to not give up because MOUD does work.

“Medication is a vital component to treatment. Anybody can be successful with the right program and support and can maintain a successful life. I don’t know where I would be without MOUD,” he said.

To learn more about the HEALing Communities Study and to help end overdoses in Genesee County, visit:

•           HEALing Communities Study Website:

•           GOW Opioid Task Force Website:

•           GO Health Facebook:

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Committee chair implores Batavia Downs Gaming leadership to address outdoor smoking area

By Mike Pettinella

The chairperson of the Batavia Downs Operations Committee this morning urged the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors and senior management to take a proactive approach toward the placement of an outdoor smoking area at the Park Road establishment.

Edward Morgan (photo at right), who represents Orleans County on the 17-member board, said the powers-that-be at Batavia Downs Gaming “need to move ahead” in case the smoking waiver now in force is terminated.

Currently, Batavia Downs Gaming has an indoor enclosed smoking room only.

“The two-year waiver could be gone any day,” Morgan said at today’s board meeting. “We need to be prepared, even if it’s just a small heated outside area with no machines in it.”

Morgan said he visited the Del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo recently to check out its smoking accommodations. He reported that a 50- by 150-foot area, featuring about 150 gaming machines, has been installed outside – “exposed to all the elements."

“From the looks of it, people seem to use it to smoke and then go back inside to play,” he said, adding that he saw about a dozen people in the area during his midweek midday stop.

Morgan pointed to Batavia Downs Gaming surveys that reveal “how important it is to some of our patrons to be able to smoke at a machine.”

Scott Kiedrowski, vice president/operations, said that although a tri-county commission has approved a waiver for another two years, “there’s always a fear that something might change in the health department regulations or state regulations and we could lose our smoking designation.”

“A lot of casinos in the area and throughout New York and other states might have some stringent smoking requirements,” he said. “They have some outdoor areas, called smoke gardens, if you will, that are heated and covered with games outside … to have the ability to have smoking on the property but not inside the building.”

Morgan said it would be prudent for the board and management to start looking at options, including the location of an outdoor smoking area.

“Even if it was outdoors and heated, with no machines,” he reiterated.

Batavia Downs officials keeping an 'i' out for legislation concerning mobile gaming in New York State

By Mike Pettinella

If and when iGaming comes to New York State, Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. officials say they want a piece of the action.

Speaking about the corporation’s lobbying efforts in Albany, President and Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek said that he is keeping abreast of a bill that would allow iGaming in New York.

“Six states actually have it already and they’re reporting record levels (of revenue),” he said during this morning’s board of directors meeting at Batavia Downs Gaming on Park Road.

An internet search of iGaming reveals that it’s an increasingly popular form of mobile betting or gambling that includes Casino games, real money slot games, sports betting and horse race betting. Per Transparency Market Research, the iGaming sector is set to generate $100 billion by 2024.

“iGaming is something that’s being proposed by State Senator (Joseph) Abbaddo (Jr.), who’s the chair of the Senate Gaming Committee,” Wojtaszek said. “He’s submitted it as a bill and it allows for mobile or remote gaming on your computer or on your phone.”

Wojtaszek said Batavia Downs Gaming would be asking to be included in this opportunity, along with Finger Lakes and Buffalo Raceway.

“We would be looking to establish an online platform, as well as other casinos across the state, so that we can be competitive within the industry,” he said, noting that WROTB’s Batavia Bets interactive online platform covers harness race betting only.

Currently, the other six states that permit iGaming are New Jersey, West Virginia, Michigan, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, he said.

Abbaddo, a Democrat who represents the 15th District (Queens), recently spoke about the bill, which moved forward into the State Assembly on Feb. 3.

He cited projections that iGaming would surpass mobile sports betting (which already is legal in New York State) and urged his colleagues to pass the bill into law.

“Every year we don’t do iGaming in New York, if you do the math, there’s roughly $4 billion lost – if you think of it that way; revenue lost – and lost to another state and to the illegal market,” he was quoted as saying.

Abbaddo said his goal was to get the bill passed by the end of this year’s legislative session.

In other developments:

  • WROTB directors approved the promotion of Danielle Fleming to the Director of Human Resources position, a move up from her current role as payroll supervisor.

“We had three excellent candidates from within who applied and Danielle is the one who has been recommended for hire,” Wojtaszek said, adding that she started in the marketing department before moving to payroll. “She is very smart and very talented and we’re glad to have her here.”

  • Batavia Downs harness racing’s handle in January and February 2023 represented a 35 percent increase from the handle at Buffalo Raceway for those two months in 2022. There had been no January-February racing at Batavia Downs previous to this year, when WROTB officials reached an agreement with the Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association to conduct a slate two or three days a week during those months.

Wojtaszek called the limited meet a “great success” and will be exploring continuing it in 2024 depending on the WNYHHA’s position.

  • Directors voted to enter into a contract with PPR Energy to provide the infrastructure needed to prepare for the installation of 16 electric vehicle charging stations at Batavia Downs Gaming.

Wojtaszek said the stations would be built in two locations – 12 of them in the general parking lot and four in the valet parking area. Right now, there are two EV charging stations in the valet parking lot.

  • WNY Tile and Stone Corp. of North Tonawanda has been hired to install new floor and wall tile on the second floor in the restroom area at Batavia Downs Gaming and the same in the Park Place banquet room and boardroom on the first floor at a total cost of $160,000.

It was reported that the expense would be covered by insurance, stemming from flooding at the facility several months ago.

Additionally, directors approved a $69,900 contract with Painters Plus Home Decorating of North Tonawanda as the lowest bidder to paint the 67 rooms at the Hotel at Batavia Downs.

  • Directors voted to purchase a block of eight tickets with parking from Live Nation for the 2023 concert series at Darien Lake at an amount not to exceed $30,000.

GCASA Foundation to award four scholarships; application deadline is March 10

By Press Release

Press release:

Officials at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse have expanded the qualification criteria of the nonprofit agency’s annual Foundation scholarships.

GCASA Chief Executive Officer John Bennett has announced that four $1,000 scholarships will be awarded in May to students enrolled in schools or colleges located in Genesee and Orleans counties.

“The major change is that now students enrolled in a Genesee County or Orleans County school can apply for the scholarship even if their primary residence is in a different county,” Bennett said. “Previously, the scholarship eligibility stipulated that the high school students had to live in Genesee or Orleans.”

While one scholarship will go to a student in Genesee and another to a student in Orleans, the other two scholarships will go to a technical/trade school student and an adult student pursuing a bachelor’s and master’s degree who will be attending college in the fall of this year.

Bennett said the GCASA Foundation was established to support the work of GCASA and other human service agencies who are working to improve community health.

“The board of directors of both GCASA and GCASA Foundation are committed to providing quality services,” he added. “Educated, skilled employees and board members are the necessary ingredients for effective service delivery systems in the behavioral health field.”

Applications are available on the GCASA website – – or can be obtained by contacting Diane Klos at Diane Klos at 585-815-1883 or [email protected]. Completed applications must be received via email or postmarked by 3/10/2023.

Other pertinent scholarship information is as follows:

• Applicant must be accepted at an accredited college or university and enrolled in or matriculated in an eligible program/major.

• Eligible programs or majors include: Social Work, Nursing, Health Science, Mental Health Counseling, Psychology, or Human Services.

• Current GCASA employees, board members and GCASA Foundation board members are NOT eligible.

• Relatives of GCASA employees, board members and GCASA Foundation board members ARE eligible.

• Applicant must provide academic history such as high school and/or college transcripts.

• Applicant must provide two letters of recommendation from someone who knows the applicant’s work/volunteer/academic history. Letters from relatives will not be accepted.

• Applicant must provide a resume or personal biography including work history, volunteer experiences, and extra-curricular activities.

• Applicant must provide an essay that addresses educational and employment objectives as they relate to the mission of GCASA. Financial need, volunteerism, employment history and civic involvement will be given careful consideration.

• The scholarship recipient will be announced at GCASA’s annual membership meeting in May 2023 upon verification of acceptance into an accredited college or university.

• The scholarship monies will be awarded upon completion of the fall semester. The award recipient must provide a copy of their transcript demonstrating at least a 2.0 GPA.

• Applicant may be invited for an interview before final awards are made.

Behavioral specialist urges ‘person-first approach’ to mitigate effects of substance use disorder stigma

By Mike Pettinella


Attitudes toward substance use disorder and words that reflect those attitudes can have a tremendous effect on the recovery process of those struggling with addiction.

“Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace and that (disgrace) is a pretty powerful word,” said Diana Padilla, a longtime behavioral health specialist who was in Genesee County on Wednesday to present a training seminar for social workers and providers at the Alexander Recreation & Banquet Facility.

Padilla, in her 90-minute “Reducing Stigma in Our Communities” presentation, provided tools for counselors to counteract the negative connotations associated with substance use and mental illness.

A research project manager at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Division of Substance Use Disorders, Columbia University Medical Center, Padilla communicated that stigma against people with substance use disorders can create barriers to treatment, such as an increase in shame and isolation from family, friends and community, and treating those with addiction as criminals.

She bemoaned the fact that the healthcare and judicial systems have not fully recognized that substance use disorder is an illness, and that recovery is possible.

“Stigma can lead to more substance use disorder and people can lose hope,” she said. “It really becomes a vicious cycle.”

Padilla said she has seen how health insurance companies and the law continue to view substance use disorder as a “result of a moral weakness and flawed character.”

She noted that some providers blame the individual for causing the problem and will reject treatment coverage, which can lead to substandard, non-science-based care.

When it comes to mental health treatment, Padilla said statistics show that stigma prevents 40 percent of people with anxiety or depression from seeking medical help, and affects people in treatment even when their mental health problem is a distant memory.

To combat stigma, she encouraged counselors to utilize “people-first language” in their interactions with their clients:

  • Speak or write the person first, then the disability, i.e., Sam is a “person with a disability,” or “Sheila is visually impaired…”
  • Emphasize abilities or accomplishments, not limitations.
  • When communicating about a group, “individuals with disabilities.”
  • Allow and expect that individuals with disabilities will speak for themselves.
  • Be careful not to idealize people who have disabilities as being brave simply because they have a disability.

In recent years, there has been a shift toward supportive and affirming language used by public health professionals, she said.

“By using the term, substance use disorder (instead of substance abuse or addiction), it meets a diagnostic criterion,” she said.

Padilla promoted “trauma-informed care” as a key component to successfully reaching someone with substance use disorder and/or mental illness.

She referred to the Adverse Childhood Experience study that reveals a direct link between traumatic experiences at an early age to subsequent alcohol and drug problems. According to the ACE study, 64 percent of adults have faced one adverse childhood experience (emotional, physical or sexual abuse) and 40 percent have faced two or more adverse childhood experiences.

“A person with four or more ACEs is five times more likely to develop substance use disorder,” she pointed out.

It is important for counselors to understand the impact of traumatic events upon their clients’ lives, Padilla said, and to adhere to the guiding principles of trauma-informed care – safety, transparency, peer support, collaboration, empowerment and cultural, historical and gender issues.

“Empowerment, giving the client a voice and a choice, can make a huge difference,” she said. “We should support those choices even when we don’t totally agree.”

In closing, Padilla shared that people are more likely to get treatment and recover when their families, friends, providers, and communities support them without judging them.

“We can choose supportive, respectful, and nonjudgmental words that treat people with respect and compassion,” she said.

The training seminar was hosted by the GOW Opioid Task Force and Genesee County Health Department and supported by the HEALing Communities initiative.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist for GCASA.

Submitted photo: The Genesee County Health Department and GOW Opioid Task Force sponsored a "Reducing Stigma in Our Communities" training on Wednesday. From left are presenter Diana Padilla, Emily Penrose and Paul Pettit of the health department, Christen Foley of the task force and Jennifer Rowan of the health department.

WROTB directors solidly support board chair Bianchi

By Mike Pettinella

“Leadership matters” and that, according to the directors of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., is why Richard Bianchi of Monroe County is continuing on as the public benefit company’s chairman of the board.

“It’s my honor and pleasure to nominate (Bianchi) as chair because leadership matters,” said Director Dennis Bassett, who represents the City of Rochester, as he wholeheartedly endorsed the Monroe County delegate for a 13th consecutive one-year term. “He has taken us through tough times and through it all, I have learned that leadership matters.”

Bassett, speaking at this morning’s board meeting at the Park Road facility, said that Bianchi has the corporation’s “best interest at heart” while making the tough decisions and presenting a vision that has resulted in the purchase of a hotel, expanded summer concerts and providing exhibit space for public events.

“We’re experiencing our best years in OTB history and it is the direct result of the leadership of our board chair,” Bassett continued. “There has been sniping at the heels of the chair and this organization, but we have persevered.”

Director Richard Ricci (Seneca County) seconded the motion – noting that Bianchi “gives his heart and soul to this place” – before the board voted unanimously in favor of Bianchi.

That vote was followed by a unanimous vote to keep Edward Morgan (Orleans County) as the vice chair, a position the Murray resident has held for four years.

Bianchi thanked the board for its support, praising the directors’ work as well as the job done by WROTB officers, management and rank-and-file employees.

“The current board is more engaged than ever,” he said. “Let’s just keep up the great work.”

WROTB President/CEO Henry Wojtaszek echoed Bassett’s sentiments.

“Under Mr. Bianchi’s leadership, we have really good morale here with the workers, we've resolved a lot of the labor issues … and the business is at an all-time high,” he said. “And I think the outlook for the future is very bright. The physical plant is in great shape and WROTB is in the best shape it has ever been in.”

In other developments from today’s board meeting:

  • Directors voted to contract with Mind Squad Consulting LLC of Orchard Park for up to $75,000 for training and professional development for WROTB’s key officers, starting with Wojtaszek and VP/Administration William White.

“Bill and I will enroll initially and then we will see the results of that type of training. If we think it is beneficial, we will continue on and then we’ll send our other two officers (Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach and VP/Operations Scott Kiedrowski),” Wojtaszek said.

He said the leadership team has done its “due diligence” regarding Mind Squad Consulting, with the goal to “have us operating at the highest efficiencies that we can.” He said the training will consist of in-person and virtual sessions, lasting up to eight months.

  • The board authorized the purchase of a suite at Highmark Stadium for Buffalo Bills’ games for the next four seasons in the amounts not to exceed $109,000 for 2023, $113,000 for 2024, $117,000 for 2025 and $117,000 for 2026.

The resolution states that the expenditure is in line with WROTB’s “ongoing patron attraction and retention program … to provide entertainment event tickets for a certain level of our patrons as well as for special promotions.”

In a related move, directors approved spending $51,878 with Mark-It-Smart of Santa Ana, Calif., for Buffalo Bills’ clogs, coaster sets, backpacks and coolers to be used as promotional items.

  • The board extended a contract with Kim Crawford to provide consulting services in respect to the surfacing and banking of the harness horse racing track for the 2023 winter meet that is currently taking place.

WROTB will pay Crawford an additional $21,000 to the previously agreed upon contract of $65,000 for 2023.

  • Leach reported that $49,780 in surcharge from November activity will be distributed to the corporation’s member municipalities.

Photo: From left, Henry Wojtaszek, Richard Bianchi and Edward Morgan. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Columbia University official to share ways to reduce stigma of substance use disorder

By Mike Pettinella

Press release:

Diana Padilla, research project manager at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Division of Substance Use Disorders, Columbia University Medical Center, will be the keynote speaker at a “Reducing Stigma in Our Communities” training in the Village of Alexander.

The session is set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Alexander Recreation & Banquet Facility on Route 98.

Hosted by the GOW Opioid Task Force and Genesee County Health Department, the training is designed to help healthcare and social services professionals, as well as members of the general public, learn how to identify and address stigma surrounding opioid use disorder and improve access to services in the Genesee Region.

Padilla, photo at right, has worked in the field of behavioral health for more than 24 years. Her experience includes service provision to communities with substance use, HIV/HCV, trauma and stress, and other psychosocial conditions.

In her capacity as a research project manager, she develops curriculum and is a senior staff trainer for the Northeast & Caribbean Addiction/Prevention Technology Transfer Centers.

Using a cultural and recovery oriented perspective, Ms. Padilla instructs on how to enhance strategies and interventions to best engage and meet the needs of substance using communities, LGBTQ+ people, diverse and other traditionally underserved populations.

Her areas of expertise include culturally and linguistically responsive services, trauma informed care, community disparities, racial stigma, social determinants of health, and affirming and inclusive best practices with clinical, non-clinical and peer support professionals.

Registration deadline for the free training is Jan. 12. Lunch will be provided.

To register, go to

Santa spreads joy to little ones at The Recovery Station

By Mike Pettinella


Eighteen-month-old Flora Moon sits on grandma Kim Flowers' lap during her special time with Jolly Old St. Nick on Thursday afternoon during the "Cookies & Crafts" with Santa event at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road. Each family received a free printed picture of their child or children with Santa and a Christmas book to take home.


Lehla, 3, couldn't be happier after getting her coloring book from Santa as Jessica Budzinack, an employee of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, looks on.


Santa's helpers (the staff at The Recovery Station) are, front, Chris Budzinack; seated from left, Tiffany Downs, Santa Claus, Ginger Burton; standing, Harry Rascoe, Luke Granger, Kat Russell, Jessica Budzinack, Sue Gagne.

Photos by Mike Pettinella, publicist for GCASA.

Public safety, peer advocates come together to help others through PAARI program

By Mike Pettinella

Deaths from drug overdoses, many of them involving fentanyl, are on the rise, and all neighborhoods – urban and rural – are at risk.

Officials of public safety agencies and the health department in Genesee County say they are united in their effort to provide the support needed to those struggling with substance use disorder through the Public Safety Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative.

“The City of Batavia Police Department is determined to do our part in the fight against the opioid epidemic in our city and region,” Chief Shawn Heubusch said. “To that end we continue to partner with the GOW Opioid Task Force to support programs such as PAARI, where anyone suffering from addiction can come to our department, any time day or night, and get connected to a professional for assistance.”

The Genesee County sheriff, Le Roy Police chief, City of Batavia fire chief and Genesee County public health director echoed Heubusch’s sentiments – with each official affirming their agency’s participation in PAARI.

PAARI is a valuable partnership between local public safety agencies, Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse and the Genesee County Health Department. This resource is available so that residents who are suffering from substance use and want to seek help, can access a safe place in the community at all hours, without judgment or legal implications.

“The PAARI program provides residents with the support that they need when they are ready to seek help and treatment,” Public Health Director Paul Pettit said. “Our partners are trustworthy, compassionate people who want to get our residents that are struggling the help that they need and connect them to the resources available.

“We know that the holidays can be a difficult time for some, but know that you are not alone. There are people in the community that care about you and want to help you.”

Pettit said that 15 Genesee County residents died from an overdose in 2020, and in almost all of those cases fentanyl was involved.

“Since then, at least 17 additional community residents have died from an opioid overdose,” he added.

Sheriff William Sheron Jr. said his office “stands ready to assist in any way possible those individuals and families who are combatting addiction.”

“Addiction can affect anyone, anytime.  We are available; our doors are always open, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Please do not hesitate to reach out and together we can work to overcome addiction within our communities,” he said.

Batavia Fire Chief Josh Graham said his department will continue to partner with the other agencies in PAARI to provide a safe place where anyone suffering from addiction can come to help.

“When I first learned about the PAARI program within the City of Batavia Fire Department, I was immediately impressed with the idea,” he mentioned. “Doing everything we can to aid in the fight against opioids is imperative.”

Peer advocates at GCASA are available at all hours to assist those who utilize the PAARI program, said Melissa Vinyard, a certified peer recovery coach and someone in recovery.

“My fellow peers and I get the opportunity to go reach out and offer a hand to help those who suffer with SUD,” she said. “For that, I truly believe we are responsible. It is my privilege to give back to our community what was so freely given to me.”

Residents seeking treatment or prevention services can also access the GOW Linkage to Care App. The free app is available for download on the App Store and Google Play by searching “GOW Opioid Linkage to Care.”

The Genesee County PAARI locations are as follows:

  • City of Batavia Fire Department, 18 Evans St., Batavia, (585) 345-6375.
  • City of Batavia Police, 10 West Main St., Batavia, (585) 345-6350.
  • Genesee County Sheriff, 165 Park Rd., Batavia, (585) 345-3000.
  • Le Roy Police, 3 West Main St., Le Roy, (585) 768-2527

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is the publicist at GCASA.

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