At the end of March, Assemblymember Marianne Buttenschon announced two new Office of Mental Health (OMH) initiatives to combat the ongoing youth mental health crisis in New York state and Oneida County.

The initiatives would focus on using $30 million in capital funds to purchase new property, construct new facilities and rehabilitate existing facilities to develop psychiatric residential treatment facilities. In addition, the OMH announced that they will make funds available for 37 flexible assertive community treatment (ACT) teams statewide.

Luis Ramirez is a licensed clinical social worker. A year ago, he opened his own practice, Rising Potential Counseling in Utica. He says clinicians like himself are facing a lot of challenges, with the number one factor being money.

“Each clinician in the practice for each year needs to have up to 12 hours of continuing education credits before they can be certified for their license at total of 36 credits for the three years for each individual person," Ramirez said. "Some of these trainings that we do attend, for example, can go from anywhere as low as $400 to $1,300.” 

Ramirez says he recently got his certification in being able to diagnose autism because there is a great need for that in the county.

“Training alone for me just to become certified and one of the modalities for autism, which is considered the ADR, was almost $3,000," Ramirez said.

He says because the need for mental health services is greater than the number of providers people have to be put on a waiting list.

“How can you tell a person who has been suicidal or a person who has a need of mental services? Sorry, I don't have a clinician right now because they're tapped out when it comes to cases," Ramirez said.

The Office of Mental Health is trying to bridge that gap by creating more facilities for psychiatric residential treatment and giving more funds to assertive community treatment teams, who provide services to people with mental health needs who have a history of emerency room visits and encounters with law enforcement.

“And clearly we need that," Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said. "You know, the problem is we need it now. And while all of this is positive and good for dealing with this problem. We're still have a long waiting period you know, six months or more. And families can't wait that long to get into treatment or to get into ... some kind of facility.” 

Picente says the state has to take a greater look at the numbers.

The issue of releasing people, you know, on medication is not the answer," Picente said. "There needs to be more treatment facilities and more inpatient and outpatient facilities that can handle this.” 

In order to do that, Ramirez says he would like to see more funding in the state budget for private practices like his.

“If I don’t have reimbursement coming in for that particular clinician, I can't pay them," Ramirez said. "So if I have something that can say, here's the budget, this person can start tomorrow and here's a waiting list of 70, this person can start taking 30, then that waiting list and starts to go down again, making mental health accessible for those that need it.”