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Agencies provide $47k for Family Counseling Service of Northern New York

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Family Counseling Service of Northern New York will get a $47,000 influx of cash to help the agency close a funding gap, and continue to provide what Chief Executive Officer Collene D. Alexander describes as essential mental health services to north country children and adults.

The agency will receive $32,000 in unused Jefferson County funds designated for mental hygiene, and $15,000 from the United Way of Northern New York to make up a $13,000 deficit as of October and other shortfalls expected through month’s end.

The money comes months after Family Counseling Service was defunded by the United Way earlier this year, losing $49,000 that was used to help fund the cost of family services and a women’s empowerment program.

“I’m an eternal optimist,” said Mrs. Alexander, as she praised Jefferson County Community Services and the United Way for their support.

Community Services Director Roger J. Ambrose said Family Counseling Service provides mental health services “almost on a preventive nature.”

“Family Counseling Service provides a supportive setting, so it doesn’t get more serious,” he said.

Mrs. Alexander said FCS therapists accommodate about 1,000 total visits each month, a significant increase from an average of just under 400 monthly visits about three years ago.

In a news release, United Way CEO Robert D. Gorman said “In light of the state threat to decrease the amount of behavioral health services in Ogdensburg and the north country, our community leaders are uniting to keep FCS’s doors open.”

He said the United Way recognizes that Family Counseling Service is making improvements, so the United Way is showing the counseling agency support.

Some adjustments Family Counseling Service has made include cutting two staff positions through attrition, developing a 55-year anniversary $55,000 fundraising campaign, and continuing with other fundraising events. Mrs. Alexander said the agency has also been actively looking for a licensed clinical social worker with a special designation that would allow Family Counseling Service to be reimbursed for visits with that person regardless of what insurance plan they have.

Now, some therapists are only credientaled through a couple of insurance companies. Financial shortfalls come into play because not every client has insurance, so Family Counseling Service does not necessarily get paid the average $70 per session fee from all clients. Some pay based on a sliding-fee scale, which may go as low as $25 per session.

Meanwhile, Family Counseling Service will also receive organizational support from Samaritan Medical Center to help the agency develop a sustainable business model, according to the news release.

“Samaritan has been asked to assess FCS’s current operations to help determine if applying to become a licensed state Office of Mental Health clinic would help their viability,” Samaritan CEO Thomas H. Carman said in the news release.

Mr. Ambrose said Family Counseling Service is currently in process of becoming an approved OMH provider, which would mean the county could filter state aid dollars to the agency.

“We’re pretty close I think,” he said. “Family Counseling Service has done a lot of work to set up their programs to meet OMH guidelines.”

That move could also make Family Counseling Service one step closer to it becoming a full OMH clinic, which would mean it would have to adhere to additional state requirements and regulations.

If the $47,000 in extra funds hadn’t come through, Mrs. Alexander said she believes the community would have rallied around the agency in other ways in order to avoid closure.

“I do not believe it ever would have gotten to that point,” she said. “It doesn’t mean there wouldn’t have been changes. This community really is there to support agencies and services needed. Roger is just too good at what he does to put the agency at risk.”

Mr. Ambrose said he has spoken with Mrs. Alexander since she arrived at the agency in 2010 about how valuable Family Counseling Service is.

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