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One-stop shop addiction and mental health care expands

Drug and alcohol addiction and untreated mental health issues have long devastated many pockets of the North Country. But there are long waitlists for treatment, and often long drives to clinics in Syracuse and Albany. A new clinic in Malone is trying to change that.

“We don’t see a person out in our communities who hasn’t been personally affected or had a loved one or a friend impacted by one of these issues,” says James Button, CEO of Citizen Advocates, based in Malone. He says people have been falling through cracks in the treatment system due to a model that doesn’t focus on the “whole person.”

Citizen Advocates has been piloting a new “one-stop shop” clinic in Malone, called a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, or CCBHC. The agency recently got a $4 million federal grant to expand that new model to clinics in Massena and Ogdensburg in St. Lawrence County.

Button’s conversation with David Sommerstein has been lightly edited for clarity.

JAMES BUTTON: We look at it as a health clinic of the future where we prioritize convenience and quality of care. So someone can come in and get mental health treatment, addiction treatment, but in addition to that, they can get transportation support, housing, employment, and even a personal trainer if they’d like to work out.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: So it’s really seeing that there are many contributing factors to addiction and mental health, not just medical.

BUTTON: Absolutely. And when we look at the landscape of mental health and addiction, we don’t think that anything looks different except for the approach. And that’s what makes this a game-changer. We’re now approaching people looking through a lens of their entire situation. And by removing the confusion of having to deal with multiple entities and the hurdles of getting to treatment, we’ve seen that people can focus on getting back on their feet.

SOMMERSTEIN: What are those hurdles you’re talking about? What was hard for people to get the help that they needed?

BUTTON: I think it’s easy to talk about it in terms of maybe a different industry that we took our cues from: our grandparents and the grocery industry. One hundred years ago, if our grandparents needed a cut of meat, they had to go to a butcher. And if they needed a loaf of bread, they had to go to a baker. And somewhere along the line, all of these producers or providers got together and said, ‘why don’t we get together and just make it easier, so that we can create a shopping center or a grocery store where people can come to one spot and take care of all of their needs.’

That’s what we’re doing here. CCBHC is basically co-locating and closely locating all the services that someone would have to go to individually, or engage different providers, different programs, different agencies prior to a CCBHC being in the area.

SOMMERSTEIN: You’ve been doing this as a pilot for two years in Malone. How do you know that it’s been working?

BUTTON: Both anecdotally, and from our research. We spend a lot of time meeting with people who have just said that this is life-changing for them. The fact that we’ve been able to prioritize convenience, locating all of these services under one roof, turning it into a one-stop shop kind of approach has really been a game-changer for folks in the community.

But in addition to that, our partners are seeing it in terms of reduced emergency room visits and reduced hospitalizations for psychiatric illness and inpatient. We want to provide services in the community for people in the community. No longer do you need to go to Syracuse or Watertown or even Plattsburgh, you can get treated right here in the North Country and people appreciate that.

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