GLOVERSVILLE - At any given time, Fulton County's two city-based mental health clinics have 500 patients per clinic. With both scheduled to shut down by early summer, due to county budget cuts, comes the question of which non-profit agency or agencies will now provide those patients with services.
County Director of Community Services Ernest Gagnon said a number of agencies and facilities are in the running to pick up the slack for what is about to happen - the county shutting down its mental health facilities. The county will only fund the clinics until June 30.
Those in the running include St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam, Family Counseling Center, the Mental Health Association of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, the Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Council and Conifer Park.
Fulton County Mental Health Department Director Ernest Gagnon works at his desk at the Fulton County Mental Health Clinic in Gloversville on Friday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Letters of intent and RFPs for those who might be interested were sent out in December and are due back shortly.
"The [potential] vendors need a certain amount of time to put together a proposal like this," Gagnon said.
He said the state doesn't allow for-profit entities to take over public mental health facilities.
The county Mental Health Department, run by Gagnon, has put out a request for proposal for those interested in privatizing the two clinics.
"We wanted to make sure we had vendors who would be willing to take over the clinics," Gagnon said.
County facilities due to close by mid-year are the Mental Health Clinic at 57 E. Fulton St. and the Addiction Services Clinic at 73 N. Main St.
Gagnon said he has to go through the RFP process to make the transition legal with the state.
Johnstown 2nd Ward Supervisor Michael Kinowski, chairman of the Board of Supervisors' Social Services Committee, said it may not be feasible to shut the clinics down by June 30.
He said he's talked to board Chairman David Howard and the Finance Committee may have to take up the budget issue as the year progresses.
"Obviously, we may have to readdress the problems ... the funding, because we really can't just shut it down," Kinowski said.
Still, he said, the "services are going to be there" in the community for the mentally ill and-or addicted.
Addiction Services Coordinator William Doran said there has been some anxiety expressed by patients as to where their services will come from after June 30.
"Those concerns certainly have been expressed," Doran said. "We're really going to continue normally operating until we see a change."
According to county Administrative Officer Jon Stead, closing the county's two mental health clinics and privatizing them saves the county about $455,000 annually. The savings for the Mental Health Clinic will be $283,423 and the savings for the Addiction Services Clinic will be $171,207.
Even though the county plans to close the clinics by June 30, Gagnon said the state Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services and the state Office of Mental Health both indicated it may take about a year for the transition of services to a not-for-profit to be final.
OASAS Upstate District Director Kathleen Murphy recently wrote Gagnon that following the RFP process, the new provider needs to apply for certification with her state agency.
"If they are a new provider who currently does not operate OASAS certified services, they will need to apply for certification and that process will take at least seven months to complete," Murphy said. "If the application is not received in a complete manner, it can take much longer."
Pamela Wondro, director of the state Office of Mental Health's Central New York Field Office, also in December wrote the Fulton County Board of Supervisors: "Clinics issued by the Office of Mental Health do not have the ability to simply close without sufficient planning and authorization to do so grant by the state ... The time frame for the county to apply for and receive approval to close the clinic would realistically require 12 months to complete."
Gagnon said the two clinics each have about 500 patients needing services at any given time, although some people attend both clinics for varying needs. Now, the patients will need somewhere to go. Gagnon said the Fulton County Community Services Board -not the Board of Supervisors - will ultimately decide which not-for-profit agencies will "sponsor" one or both of the clinics under its auspices.
RFPs have already been sent out and Gagnon said they are due back by Feb. 15. Gagnon said the Community Services Board is expected to make a decision by March 4.
Gagnon said any conflicts of interest for those on the Community Services Board - often made up of staff at area counseling centers - have to be weeded out before a final decision is made.
Also factored into transitioning mental health patients from the county facilities into a more private setting is the necessity for a state Certificate of Need. The CON must be approved for any vendor willing to "pick up the clinics," Gagnon said.
Jerri Cortese, director of community relations for St. Mary's Hospital, said her facility's Behavioral Health Services unit is interested in both of Fulton County's clinics because there is an obvious immediate need.
"We are one of the agencies that has shown an interest because we have such widespread mental health and addiction services," Cortese said. "We really felt an obligation to the consumers in Fulton County to at least take a look at it in a good faith effort."
Cortese said St. Mary's, by responding to the RFP, also has to decide whether it is cost-effective to take over the clinics in Gloversville and have a presence there and not have patients travel to Amsterdam for services.
"One of the things the mental health movement is trying to do is to keep the mental health services [patients need] in their community," Cortese said. "We're in the process of trying to gather information."
Gagnon said the staffs at the county clinics continue to help those who need mental health services in the county.
"The staff in both clinics are working very hard," Gagnon stated.
He said the staffs at both clinics have also been informed of the layoff process.
Another aspect of the closure of the clinics, Gagnon said, is that he was approached by Montgomery County officials about having one director of community services - a title required by law - for both Fulton and Montgomery counties. He said former Montgomery County Director of Community Services Jim Gurnaer is retired.
Gurnaer said he is officially retired, but has received permission from the state to work as Montgomery County director of community services on a part-time basis through 2011.
Gagnon said the only two counties in the state that have someone share such a title are Warren and Washington counties.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org