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St. Lawrence County Community Services offers walk-in mental health and substance abuse assessments

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Want help with depression? Ready to stop using drugs? St. Lawrence County Community Services is ready to assess your problems and start a treatment plan on a walk-in basis.

“If clients are in a vulnerable place, the last thing we want them to do is wait,” Community Services Director Angela M. Doe said. “I want people to get better. What is most important to me is that people who need us can get to us. I think the reality is living in upstate New York creates some significant barriers to quality care.”

For many years, mental health and substance abuse assessments were scheduled, leaving some people on a waiting list while others who had appointments missed them, sometimes because they got cold feet or could not get a ride. Therapists were sometimes left with time wasted waiting for a no-show client, which meant hours unreimbursed which could have been spent treating someone else.

When Ms. Doe took over the department in 2012, she wanted to expand access to care.

Open-assessment appointments in substance abuse at clinics in Canton, Ogdensburg, Massena and Gouverneur have been available for almost a year. For those seeking mental health services at the Canton clinic, open access for assessments came fully into place Dec. 9.

“The wonderful thing about this is when clients present, they understand they’re going to be seen,” Ms. Doe said. “It gives them a sense of reassurance. The sooner they’re seen and their symptoms addressed, the greater the probability for their recovery.”

Prior to the change, more than half of the dozen scheduled for mental health assessments in a week did not show up. In substance abuse, two people might show up out of five scheduled.

Mental health walk-ins started with the county’s waiting list. Afterwards, hospitals were notified of the change. Now a letter has been sent to all community support providers.

“We’re at a place where people in the community know we’re doing walk-ins,” Ms. Doe said.

An initial appointment identifies all of a client’s needs. Sign-ins generally are from 8 a.m. to noon. Clinicians are available from 8:30 a.m. until late afternoon. Most people do not wait more than 40 minutes.

“All screening is done at the time of admission,” Ms. Doe said. “By the time they’re done with all the paperwork, the counselor is usually ready to see them.”

The change has been an adjustment for staff, Ms. Doe acknowledged.

“It’s not the way we’ve been trained to have patients come to our office, but traditional approaches do not always serve the client,” she said. “This change is very new and change can be scary. I’m proud of the staff’s desire to take good care of people.”

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