HUDSON — The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office launched a new referral program to help locals get mental health and addiction treatment.

The sheriff’s office, Columbia County Mental Health Department and Greener Pathways have started a new referral program to help Columbia residents access mental health and addiction support.

“We are excited to launch this program to bring help and support to those in need in our community,” Sheriff David Bartlett said in a statement. “The possibilities are endless with this simple referral program and we are already thinking of ways we can share it with other law-enforcement agencies in Columbia County as well as refer to more county departments and organizations such as DSS (Department of Social Services).”

The new referral program makes it possible for officers to connect people to mental health and addiction services. If deputy sheriffs interact with an individual who appears to be in need of mental health services or addiction help, they can now submit an online referral request to Columbia County Mental Health Department or Greener Pathways. Then caseworkers and peer advocates from these agencies will reach out to the individual and offer them services that may be able to help them.

Bartlett said the goal is to be able to help as many people through the new program as possible.

Capt. Louis Bray worked with Columbia Management Information Services to develop the online form that can send a referral to either of the two departments.

“This is a great tool to assist the Sheriff’s Office in ensuring that there is follow-up care and support for those we encounter who we believe could benefit from mental health and/or addiction services,” Bray said in a statement. “We are excited to roll it out to help the people in our community.”

The program began from ideas and suggestions that were made at county police reform meetings. New Lebanon Town Supervisor and Columbia County Board of Supervisors Minority Leader Tistrya Houghtling suggested the county look at the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon, as a model. The CAHOOTS program provides mobile crisis intervention 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the Eugene-Springfield Metro area. CAHOOTS is dispatched through the Eugene police-fire-ambulance communications center and has been around for about 30 years, according to the program’s website. About 20% of all 911 calls in the area are diverted to mental health professionals and paramedics instead of law enforcement.

“This is a great first step in moving towards that goal,” Houghtling said in a statement. “It is something we can do right away within our current budget and staffing restraints to get help to the people who need it immediately. I am excited to work on the next steps to expand this program further towards the CAHOOTS model that has proven extremely successful and is being used across the country as other counties, towns, and cities implement these programs.”

This month there have been two separate overdose spike alerts issued in Columbia County. Carl Quinn, program director for Greener Pathways, said the number of overdoses has continued to increase due to the pandemic.

“This is an incredible opportunity to potentially reach people before they overdose and provide intervention services,” Quinn said in a statement. “If the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office encounters someone who is struggling with addiction this program will allow us to provide support services to that individual before they are in crisis mode. This is another step in supporting multiple pathways to recovery for those county residents that are battling Substance Use Disorder.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, mental health issues are common in the United States and it is estimated that 50% of all Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives. Mental illnesses are the third-most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for people aged 18 to 44. The CDC website also states adults living with a serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others.

“This is a great first step in ensuring all of our residents have access to mental health care,” Dan Almasi, acting director of community services and department head from the Columbia County Department of Mental Health, said in a statement. “Right now people need support more than ever with the social isolation and other struggles that have come along with the coronavirus pandemic. My office is excited to collaborate with Sheriff Bartlett and the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office to ensure that people who are struggling and in need of support receive the care they need in a timely fashion.”

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