The plan for a group with more than 45 years of experience of providing mental hygiene services in Northern New York to operate another facility in St. Lawrence County would have tremendous benefits.

Citizen Advocates, based in Malone, wants to open a Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center in Ogdensburg. The proposal has been approved by the board for the St. Lawrence County Community Services Department.

“We call it a crisis and recovery center,” Joseph Riccio, director of communications and government affairs for Citizen Advocates, said in a story published Wednesday in the Watertown Daily Times. “In the public’s mind, when you say urgent care, they immediately orient to, ‘I’ve got a sore throat or my kid scraped his knee and I have to go to the urgent care center,’ This is urgent care for mental health and addiction treatment.”

Opening a Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center in Ogdensburg would relieve some of the time and resources spent by medical personnel in hospital emergency rooms, Riccio said. People who need help with mental health issues or problems pertaining to addiction often go to emergency rooms for assistance.

These staff members are not always prepared to offer the kind of help the individuals truly need, Riccio said. Having a facility catering specifically to people like this will ensure emergency room resources are reserved for patients who require them.

The Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center in Ogdensburg would be able to focus on how to treat those with mental health or addiction concerns. Citizen Advocates has the expertise to provide the right assistance.

“Originally founded in 1975, Citizen Advocates served as a work program for individuals with a need for developmental and behavioral health support. At the time, the organization had 12 employees serving 50 individuals,” according to information from the group’s website. “Today, Citizen Advocates employs 750 health professionals and support staff who provide a broad range of services with compassion and skill to 6,500 individuals on an annual basis. With administrative offices in Malone, Citizen Advocates provides developmental disability, mental health and substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services throughout Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties.”

More emphasis should be placed in our society for providing appropriate services to those with behavioral health issues. The stigma associated with the field of mental hygiene thwarts people from seeking the help they need.

This should become as routine as getting a physical, going to a dentist or obtaining an eye exam. Everyone has mental health, so having trained professionals help with concerns related to mental health should not continue to be viewed as shameful. Expanding behavioral health services and encouraging more people to take advantage of them will reduce this stigma.

“The Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center will not only provide the mental health or addiction support needed immediately but will also help people get connected to services to provide support once the crisis has passed such as counseling appointments and housing and transportation services. Citizen Advocates will employ between 20 and 25 people to staff the center,” the Times article reported. “The treatment team will include a supervising physician, advance practice providers, registered nurses, therapists, targeted case managers, peer specialists and customer support. Targeted case managers connect clients with services like job training or housing, often coordinated through other organizations. Peer specialists are specially trained counselors who often have lived experience with a mental health or addiction diagnosis or both.”

This is a positive development for the people of St. Lawrence County. We look forward to Citizen Advocates carrying out its plans in Ogdensburg.

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