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Schenectady's Ellis opens innovative adolescent mental health center

The Daily Gazette - 2/29/2024

Feb. 29—SCHENECTADY — Adolescents facing mental health crises' will now have a safe haven in the heart of Schenectady with the opening of the Family Room in Ellis Medicine's State Street facility.

The Living Room, the site's walk-in mental health service for adults that opened in 2018, caters to adults ages 18 years of age and up, with adolescents ages 10 to 17 now able to receive similar services at the State Street health center.

"The idea is simple, but very innovative. The idea is to provide a service that is almost like an urgent care for mental health," Ellis Medicine President & CEO Paul Milton said on Tuesday. "We will serve young people on the verge of a mental health emergency. They can simply walk in, no appointments necessary. The idea is to provide an alternative to the emergency room and have a warm, welcoming place where they can get care."

The free program will allow adolescents to walk into the Mark and Terri Little Health Center at 1023 State St. and receive mental health care in a calming, homey environment, with each child assessed by a clinician to see if they require medical attention.

The Living Room was funded by a $712,560 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.

The Family Room is cost-free for all adolescents who use its services, with Milton explaining that the project was made possible through philanthropy, with the operational costs funded by the Mother Cabrini grant and Ellis Medicine.

"If you come in here, we're not going to charge you," Milton said. "We make a commitment to take care of people in the city."

The adolescent program is the first of its kind in the state, with the Ellis staff identifying a need for outpatient mental health care for young adults.

"I think this resource is going to be so wonderful for our community," Ashley Norcross, Clinical Director of Mental Health Services and Social Services at Ellis Medicine, said on Tuesday. "Mental health in general is lacking the resources with waitlists and not enough supports for children and adolescents. So adding this as an additional resource for families and adolescents to come to is going to be a great benefit to help support youth and connect them with those services."

Norcross said that 98% of patients who have utilized the Living Room program since 2018 have not required a subsequent hospital visit.

"We're really hoping to replicate that," Norcross said of the new Family Room facility.

Norcross noted that over 500 children and adolescents experiencing mental issues visit the Ellis Hospital emergency room each year, with the Family Room program providing an alternative for adolescents.

Dr. David Sturman, chair of the department of psychiatry at Ellis, said that adolescents face unique mental health challenges that the new Ellis facility can help treat.

"Nearly one in three adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder prior to reaching adulthood," Sturman said Tuesday. "Even those without clinical diagnosis, our young people are facing significant challenges and may be ill-equipped to effectively cope and adapt to the storm and stress of growing up."

The former State Street Health Center was renamed as the Mark and Terri Little Health Center on Tuesday in honor of the pair of Schenectady philanthropists.

The Family Room provides a space for patients' family members to participate in the program, with adolescents given access to counseling and social support. An adolescent does not need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to utilize the Family Room, but parents may be contacted following the visit to help address the mental health issues the adolescent is experiencing.

"There's folks from the (state) Office of Mental Health here today and I think they'll come and learn about it and they'll spread the word with other organizations that want to try something and be innovative in mental health," Milton said.


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