Schenectady County

Suicide crisis center closing

A suicide prevention program created after four young girls killed themselves in Schenectady in 2008

A suicide prevention program created after four young girls killed themselves in Schenectady in 2008-09 will end in December because of a lack of funds, despite what program operators say is a continuing need for its services.

Operators of the Hamilton Hill Family Resource Center said the state is ending funding for the program Dec. 31. The state Office of Mental Health, meanwhile, said program operators were told from the beginning that the state was only providing seed money and that operators had to find permanent funding as soon as possible.

The state agency provided a two-year grant to the program, beginning in 2009, with a six-month extension through Dec. 31, 2011. The grant totals approximately $100,000 per year.

The state offered the grant to Schenectady County government and community organizations after four girls committed suicide within four months during the 2008-09 academic year and several others tried to kill themselves.

The grant created the resource center, a drop-in suicide prevention program. The service is housed at the Carver Community Center in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood. Organizers said the location is paramount because it allows them to easily reach adolescents most prone to suicide and their families.

Northeast Parent & Child Society provides two clinicians, paid for through the grant, who work out of Carver. The state pays the salary of a third staff member.

Since its inception in January 2010, the resource center has provided services to 1,489 youths, using a nontraditional approach to combatting teenage suicide, according to the center’s annual report to the state. People can drop in at the center without an appointment and participate in programming that focuses on suicide prevention, crisis intervention, empowerment and other services, including structured afterschool events.

“The center allowed us to establish relationships and trust with people who felt non-threatened when they tried to access services,” said Guido Iovinella, director of the Carver Community Center. “It was unique, unconventional therapy,” he said.

Eugene White, of Northeast Parent & Child Society, said the center “is meant to be inviting to residents of that community. It is meant to be welcoming and to encourage people to come in, to have a safe place. Once someone is in the door, we can judge how much help they want and how we can assist them in the struggles they face.”

The program’s uniqueness, however, is also why the resource center is having trouble finding a permanent source of funding, Iovinella said. The state wants the resource center to seek reimbursement through Medicaid. Iovinella said this is not possible for several reasons, among them that Medicaid does not cover preventive services, a key feature of the resource center, and the volume of interventions would not generate enough revenue to make the resource center self-sustaining, he said.

“The program would have to be predominately a clinical setting under Medicaid,” thereby ending its drop-in informality, he said.

With the clock ticking, resource center officials are scrambling to find a way to remain open beyond Dec. 31. “We are trying to find resources and funding any which way we can,” Iovinella said.

White said Northeast will continue to offer clinical services to clients seeking assistance in combating suicide, as these services are covered by health insurance. “If the funding does not continue, we still offer the same services. It may not be in the same location,” he said. “The center connected people to services, and Northeast connects people to the services,” he said.

Joe McQueen, spokesman for Schenectady County, said the county is working to keep all the services offered by the resource center going in the community. “The need for the services and the positive connections it created still continue to exist, but as with many programs and services, we are looking at new and innovative ways to provide these services directly to our community,” he said.

He said some components of the program may fall into Medicaid reimbursement and that officials will try to maintain the preventive components of the programs, as well.

Iovinella said closing the resource center at Carver would be a loss for the community. “We are not out of this by any means. We must continue to be vigilant and provide to the community the opportunities and resources to assist them in preventing suicide,” he said.

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