GREENPORT — Columbia-Greene Community College is seeking a mental health professional from the Columbia County Department of Mental Health to work on campus, a request that received skeptical response from several members of the County Health and Human Services Committee.
The request was presented by Mental Health Director Michael Cole to the committee Aug. 15 to run a satellite mental health location, as a pilot, on the college campus four hours a week.
“Access to these types of services would help with retention and student success and helps students meet their goals,” said Joseph Watson, vice president of the college. “We want to provide a safe environment for students and we saw this as an area that could help with that.”
Watson said the college sends students with mental health needs to places off-campus.
“Among the students I work with, mental health issues come up often. We refer them off-campus,” Watson said. “We have a behavioral assessment team and an intake service here. This clinic would eliminate the need for those services.”
Watson said the college already partners with the county to provide services through its supported education program and REACH center that works for victims of violence and crime.
“We heard from students and parents that they want more access to services,” Watson said. “This just seems like a natural next step.”
The department has presented similar requests on the part of school districts in the past. Only the New Lebanon Central School District has refused to accept the services.
Kinderhook Town Supervisor Patrick Grattan, the committee chairman, said he thought the county should prioritize providing the services at all the grade schools before putting a clinic in the college.
“I agreed with the chairman that we need to focus on our county schools first,” said 4th Ward Supervisor William Hughes Jr., who originally supported the request. “Trying to put this clinic in the college may cause more problems than solutions right now. We have to decide who will be served and how students will be billed.”
In this case, due to certain concerns from members of the committee, the request was tabled until those concerns were addressed by the department.
Columbia County Controller Ron Caponera said he was concerned that the department planned to charge the college for the services if the county will already be making a profit off services rendered to students.
“Michael Cole said we would be making a profit on this already, I do not see why we need to charge the college too,” Caponera said.
Caponera was also concerned if Greene County was going to contribute to the cost of the satellite clinic because the counties share the college.
“Something like this should be a joint decision made by both counties,” Caponera said. “That should be first and foremost.”
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said Wednesday he had not talked with the college or Columbia County officials about putting a satellite clinic on the campus.
“If this is a programmatic thing, we should be involved,” Groden said. “We are 50 percent of the college so they should reach out to us. I don’t think they can do anything with it without reaching out to us, not that they would not.”
Groden said that if the clinic also deals with substance abuse that would be a good pairing that would benefit both counties as they fight the heroin and opioid epidemic at home.
Grattan said the satellite could be superfluous if the county established its proposed bus route between Philmont and the college, which includes four routes to and from the college and stops at the Department of Social Services building in Hudson.
“The kids who are in crisis or dealing with addiction, if they do not get help, they will end up using our services or end up in our jails,” Hughes said. “The $1 we save today will turn into $10 spent very quickly.”