Saratoga County

Mental health agency space sought

The county Mental Health Department still has a pressing need to find two new psychiatrists, but als
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The county Mental Health Department still has a pressing need to find two new psychiatrists, but also must find a new long-term location, department officials said in their just-released 2007 annual report.

“They’re ongoing issues, but they’re really big issues,” Deputy Mental Health Director Hans Lehr said, delivering the report Wednesday to the county Board of Supervisors’ public health committee.

The department, which has the core mission of providing mental health care to seriously ill people who otherwise couldn’t afford it, currently rents a building next to Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs. It sees about 2,800 people a year.

Two years ago, the hospital planned to evict the county department to make room for the new emergency room. The design of the emergency room later changed, but the current lease expires in December 2009.

“There’s no intention to have us in that building long-term,” Lehr said at the committee meeting in Ballston Spa.

What the alternative might be isn’t clear.

The county’s buildings and grounds committee is currently focused on planning for a new animal shelter and new public safety building at the County Farm property in Milton.

The public safety building will include law enforcement, emergency services and public health offices, but an architects’ study last year concluded a mental health clinic wouldn’t fit well with those other uses.

However, both hospital and county officials have said they see benefits to having the county clinic located close to the hospital, which also has a mental health unit.

The current building is more than 100 years old, and Lehr said it isn’t receiving significant maintenance.

“Relocation remains a real live issue. It can’t go away,” Lehr said.

The difficulty with recruiting new psychiatrists continues. A new position created two years ago has gone unfilled, and one of the four current doctors will be retiring this summer.

“Salary and vacation were the primary obstacles to successful recruitment,” according to the annual report.

Recruiting efforts continue, however. The county’s personnel committee held a closed-door session earlier Wednesday to hear about negotiations with the more recent candidates.

Lehr said the current pace is wearing on the doctors, and the clinic is having to see fewer patients in order to concentrate on the people with the most severe needs.

“We’re saying no to people we would historically have said yes to. We don’t like to do that, but we have no choice because of the bottleneck with the number of doctors,” Lehr said.

The severely delusional or emotionally disturbed who are potentially a danger to themselves or others take priority, he said.

In addition to providing mental health treatment, the department also provides treatment for the mentally disabled and alcohol and substance abuse treatment, all within facilities rented from the hospital.

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