County Executive Ryan Says Addressing Mental Health and Addiction Must Be a Top Priority for Federal Relief Funds, Announces Behavioral Health Task Force to Develop Plan

County Executive Ryan forms a countywide Behavioral Health Task Force to identify gaps in the County’s existing mental health and addiction landscape to inform potential spending

KINGSTON, N.Y. – As Mental Health Awareness Month begins, County Executive Pat Ryan today called for mental health and addiction recovery resources and support to be a top priority in the County’s plan for allocating federal relief funds. In addition, he announced the formation of a Behavioral Health Task Force to identify gaps in the County’s existing mental health and substance use disorder landscape, which will be used to inform future investments in behavioral health. The goal of the task force is to establish an action plan based on community needs, which will both highlight existing areas for improvement in the region’s behavioral health continuum of care and outline specific recommendations and solutions to address those areas. The Behavioral Health Task Force will meet monthly from May through September to formulate this strategy.

Prior to the pandemic, Ulster County’s mental health clinics and addiction services were often at full capacity. With the surge in need for mental health and addiction services caused by COVID-19 and the removal of critical inpatient behavioral health beds at HealthAlliance in Kingston, the County is setting out to evaluate the current situation with an eye towards rebuilding a system where all residents have access to the type of care and mental health resources that they need. 

“At a time when we’re seeing more and more of our residents struggling with mental health and addiction, we must step up our investments to meet the moment and take care of each other. With much-needed federal relief funds on the way, the Ulster County Behavioral Health Task Force will serve as a crucial mechanism to identify gaps in our existing mental health system and make sure we invest wisely in bolstering our behavioral health programs,” said County Executive Ryan. “This Task Force will strengthen the County’s efforts to ensure we are responsive to the needs of all residents and provide them with the absolute best quality behavioral health services, both now and in the future.”

“Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics (R.Y.A.N.) is looking forward to providing a voice for the many in our community who suffer from addiction to make sure that our county has the resources that they need to recover and thrive,” said Carole Kelder, RYAN Group Founder. “We look forward to working collaboratively to create an action plan with the providers and the community members who use these recovery services, and by doing so we can make sure that every perspective is heard and included in the Behavioral Health Task force report.” 

“We want to thank County Executive Ryan for his leadership in addressing mental health issues in Ulster County,” NYSNA Member from Health Alliance Hospital Deborah Stewart. “Our NYSNA members have seen firsthand the impact of the loss of behavioral health beds in Ulster County and will provide deep knowledge on how to fill these gaps in our system. We look forward to working together to find solutions that best meet the needs of the residents of Ulster County at this critical time.” 

Task Force Members will include: 

  • Tara McDonald, Deputy Commissioner, Ulster County Department of Mental Health- Task Force Chair
  • Stephanie Turco, President and CEO of Gateway
  • Shannon Kelly, CEO of Catholic Charities
  • Allen Nace, MHA President and Samadhi Board Member
  • Katrina Williams, LGU Program Supervisor at the Ulster County Department of Mental Health
  • Juanita Hotchkiss, Project Manager,  Ulster County Department of Health-HEALing Communities Division
  • Dr. Michael Doyle, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley
  • Victoria Reid, Executive Director, Rural Health Network, Ellenville Regional Hospital
  • Timothy Hunt, Research Scientist, Columbia Univ. School of Social Work
  • Chad Storey, Lieutenant, Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, Oracle Lead 
  • Michael Berg, Executive Director of Family of Woodstock
  • Kevin O’Connor, CEO of RUPCO
  • Allison Horan, Director of Strategy & Staff for ACCESS
  • Steve Miccio, CEO of People USA
  • Katie Bierlein, Regional Director of Social Support Services for The Institute for Family Health- MidHudson
  • Chris Dennehy, Executive Director of Step 1
  • Carole Kelder, RYAN Group
  • Michele R. Conner-Shephard, Director of Outpatient Clinics/School Based and Budget Performance Specialist, Astor Services for Children & Families
  • Robin Peritz, LCSWR, Vice President for Behavioral Health, Family Services
  • Bob Gelbach, Community Services Board Representative
  • Peter Criswell, Ulster County Legislator
  • Craig Lopez, Ulster County Legislator
  • NYSNA Representative
  • 1199 Representative
  • Citizen Action Representative
  • Westchester Medical Representative 

Last month, County Executive Ryan announced that the Mobile Mental Health Team now includes a full-time social worker available to respond to 911 calls based out of the County’s 911 Center. Through the 2021 Executive Budget, $900,000 in funding was allocated to expand the Mobile Mental Health Team. The increase allowed for the hiring of a full-time social worker to be located at the 911 Emergency Center. Residents who are experiencing a mental health crisis who call 911 will now be met with a trained trauma-informed emergency response.