Clinic’s open access boosts mental health services
by Jennifer Khedaroo
May 17, 2016 | 4631 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As mental health is receiving more attention in the spotlight than it ever has before, the supply for care doesn’t seem to be keeping up with demand.

In fact, due to programs and facilities closing down, it might take up to two to three months for those who are seeking help for themselves or a loved one to receive an appointment with a healthcare professional.

The Catholic Charities Behavioral Center in Jackson Heights aims to provide immediate care to anyone who seeks it during their “open access” days, two periods of time during the week that are typically slower than others.

On Monday from noon to 3 p.m. or Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m., the clinic takes walk-ins without the hassle of a wait time. The clinic is currently waiting on the Office of Mental Health's approval to extend open access to Saturdays as well.

The clinic, which is visited by 60 or more open access visitors each week and about 3,000 total visitors monthly, is also the flagship of five locations in Brooklyn and Queens.

The other clinics are located in Glendale, Jamaica, Far Rockaway and Marine Park. Most clients for the Jackson Heights clinic are residents of Corona and Jackson Heights or they work in the area.

A lot of other mental health clinics have been nervous about implementing the open access model due to the large amount of investment and time needed to carry it out, according to Claudia Salazar, vice president for Clinic, Recovery and Rehabilitative Services.

“We’re here to provide a service that you need, when you need it, rather than down the line,” Salazar said.

The model has allowed the clinic to observe what people really need mental health services. A lot of the clientele are recent immigrants going through adjustment issues. There are also many cases of families reunifying after living some time in separate countries.

And experiences like crossing the border are very traumatic and lead to ongoing PTSD, according to clinic director Holly Jaskiewicz Schatz.

The clinic often works with Grameen VidaSana, an organization that serves many undocumented people. Grameen VidaSana serves as a medical clinic for people who don’t have insurance, and they often work on getting documentation for clients before referring them to the behavioral center.

When staff meets with a client and determines that the individual doesn’t need mental health services, the clinic can still serve as an entry point into other departments within the Catholic Charities organization.

For instance, it became apparent that a client was having issues as a consequence of divorce and being an illegal immigrant, so Salazar was able to triage the situation and send the woman to work with Catholic Charities’ migration services, who were more equipped to help her specific needs.

“We try to make ourselves as accessible as possible for people who walk in,” said director of Field Operations Lucas Matthiessen. "Because we have such a wide variety of services, we can really wrap an umbrella around people, especially people coming in for help these days who have needs in so many different areas. The more we can meet those needs as an agency, the better the outcome will be.”

Roughly 40 percent of the clientele at the clinic are children, aged five years and older, many who are treated for conditions such as ADHD or are dealing with adjustment problems. Besides individual treatment, the clinic also offers support groups for young children and teens.

“Our therapists engage with the kids really well,” Salazar said. “They themselves are young, they’re hip, and the kids really are able to connect with them."

The Glendale clinic has also set up satellite offices at Maspeth High School and M.S. 137 in Ozone Park. They’ve found that students are more willing to seek help in a school setting, and it's their goal to reduce the stigma of mental health as possible.

With the proper training, a teacher or guidance counselor can work with the student and their family to identify and distinguish a mental health issue from simple growing pains. Jaskiewicz Schatz is currently working with the Board of Education to set up more school satellites.

Thrive NYC, an initiative to increase awareness of mental health in the city, is hosting its Mental Health Weekend for Faith-Based Communities this weekend, where faith leaders across the boroughs will discuss the topic of mental health to drive conversation and decrease stigma.

However, the Catholic Charities Behavioral Center is calling on local elected officials to see the evidential work they’ve done to spearhead mental health services in the community.

“I would be so proud to have people come in and look at the work that we do,” Salazar said.

A smaller, adults-only program, known as the Personalized Recovery Oriented Services (PROS) day program, is also located at the clinic. During the day program, clients with severe mental illness or who are lower-functioning, can meet with therapists and psychiatrists, participate in social activities and even meet with an employment specialist who helps them look for jobs.

For those who have transitioned from the day program to working, they often use the clinic to receive mental health services.

"For our clients, we don’t want for mental illness to be the story of their lives,” Salazar said. “There are so many other things to a person.
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