Citizen Advocates

Citizen Advocates is planning to open a mental health urgent care in Watertown. Screenshot of company website.

WATERTOWN — A new, 24-hour urgent care center focused on mental health is coming to the city.

It will be operated by Citizen Advocates, a Malone-based health and human services company with a network of mental health and addiction treatment centers, as well as housing facilities, across Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties.

Citizen Advocates Chief Executive Officer James Button on Thursday said the facility will offer 24-hour, 7-day-a-week treatment specifically for people experiencing a mental health, addiction or related crisis.

“It’s very similar to a physical health urgent care center,” Mr. Button said. “There’s just two distinguishing factors. One is that we provide 24/7 treatment, so we are open every hour of the day, every day of the week. We also focus primarily on mental health and addiction crises.”

Mr. Button said the facility provides an alternative, better-suited option for people who might otherwise go to a hospital emergency room for care. The facility will screen patients and refer those in need to emergency medical services, while offering cleared patients access to a team of behavioral health professionals to develop individual treatment and recovery plans.

It will employ between 25 and 30 people, including addiction treatment professionals, nurses, social workers, licensed mental health counselors, licensed practical nurses and medical technicians. Mr. Button said the company’s similar facilities are able to care for between 1,000 and 2,500 people annually.

The facility will also connect patients to long-term care and treatment at agencies and programs already established.

“The first thing we did when we came to Watertown is reach out to our partners at Credo, Transitional Living Services, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Samaritan, (Northern Regional Center for Independent Living),” Mr. Button said. “We have strong relationships with each one of these providers. That’s part of our approach, is that we all work together as one safety net.”

He said the company’s goal is to provide more of a service that is desperately needed in Jefferson County, and complement the existing care provider network with an additional level of services.

As Citizens Advocates works to enter the Jefferson County market, Mr. Button said, the company is working closely with county officials, especially Timothy J. Ruetten, director of the Jefferson County Department of Community Services.

“Tim Ruetten has shepherded us through this process, come to see our locations in Malone and has helped us develop a plan to enter Jefferson County,” Mr. Button said.

Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chair Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, said the proposed facility will bring a unique business model for mental health care to the region, providing 24/7 care that hasn’t been available before.

“If at 11 o’clock in the evening, someone says ‘I’m done, I’m finished with this lifestyle, I need help,’ that’s a difficult scenario right now to manage for someone,” Mr. Gray said. “Where would they go? Who can provide help? This (urgent care) would be top of mind for them.”

On Thursday, Mr. Button and Citizen Advocates Chief of Staff Jennifer Dishaw were in Watertown to tour potential sites for the urgent care facility. They said their preferred site is the former Watertown Great American building on State Street, but a number of options are being considered.

“We stress convenience, we stress availability, and we want it to be convenient in terms of not just hours but location,” Mr. Button said.

Once they secure a site, Mrs. Dishaw said it should take between six months and a year to build the facility.

Citizen Advocates have nearly finished establishing a similar site in Ogdensburg, expected to open in January.

The company was founded in 1975 in Malone, and now employs over 900 people serving about 6,500 patients per year, offering mental and physical health care to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, people in mental health crisis and people with addictions.

“We like to say that we provide quality clinical care, and then we will get into any type of programming that helps people stay well in the community,” Mr. Button said.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

I write about north country politics, Jefferson County and the northern shoreline towns of Lyme, Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay

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