State Funding Restored for Youth Mental Health Services

New York State’s 2021-22 budget, passed last week, included funding for two mental health services programs for youth on the East End, at a time when such services are in high demand due to the isolation and upheaval to of the coronavirus pandemic.

The South Fork Behavioral Health Initiative, first enacted on the South Fork in 2014, and the North Fork Coalition for Behavioral Health, first established in 2018, will each receive $175,000 from the state for the coming year.

The funding for the North Fork program was slashed from the state budget last year and has subsisted since through other grant programs and the support of local hospitals and the Family Service League, which has played a major role in both programs.

New York State Senator Anthony Palumbo, who had been the North Fork’s State Assemblyman until this year, had advocated for $250,000 for the program in the coming year’s budget.

“COVID-19 has placed tremendous stress on our students and families who have been greatly impacted by the increase in social isolation, which is having a serious impact on the mental health and wellbeing of countless students,” said Mr. Palumbo in February. “The State Legislature must reestablish the North Fork Mental Health Initiative funding in the state budget and provide additional state aid to help fund this collaborative and extremely important initiative for North Fork students and families.” 

“Since I started to push for the North Fork Initiative in 2017, it has made a world of difference in our schools and the community as a whole. It was a huge shock when the program lost its funding,” said Denis Noncarrow, Southold Town Government Liaison Officer. “Thankfully, Family Service League has done what they could to continue with the services they provide.”

South Fork State Assemblyman Fred Thiele announced the new funding levels as the budget was approved April 8.

“Since their inception, these programs have made significant progress in increasing access to mental health treatment on both forks of Long Island, which have traditionally been underserved in the area of mental health services,” said Mr. Thiele. “This public-private collaboration has resulted in significant reductions in local school district use of Stony Brook Hospital’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP). The first phase of these initiatives focused specifically on providing crisis work, locally, rather than the traditional means of students being transported great distances by police.”          

Mr. Palumbo noted that, prior to the establishment of the North Fork Mental Health Initiative, a student in crisis, potentially from as far away as Orient Point, could be sent to CPEP at Stony Brook Hospital, the designated Psychiatric Center. This trip, usually in a police car, could be as long as an hour-and-a-half, one-way. Also, upon returning to the classroom, oftentimes there would be no follow up plan or available counseling.

“We still have a long way to go to provide the full range of help and services needed on the East End to treat mental illness. These programs have shown tremendous success toward meeting the mental health needs that exist in our communities,” said Mr. Thiele. “The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately compounded the mental health struggles faced by many New Yorkers and has underlined the need for the accessible programs to address the mental health consequences of this crisis. I am pleased that the state funds were approved to continue these programs and build upon prior success.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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