POUGHKEEPSIE – Dutchess County Democratic legislators expressed alarm over unannounced staffing and service changes at the Stabilization Center, the county’s walk-in site for residents facing addiction and mental health crises. Since mid-July, assessment and diagnosis by medical staff is no longer available at the Center. All nurses, including those employed through a contract with Mental Health America, have been laid off or transferred elsewhere.
“It appears the county is withdrawing funding for the Stabilization Center, which no longer has medical personnel to offer diagnoses,” said Legislator Brennan Kearney (D-Rhinebeck / Clinton). “The timing could not be worse, as people struggle with the impact of COVID. We strongly urge the Executive to reconsider.”
Legislator Craig Brendli (D-Poughkeepsie) called for a review. “If there are going to be budget cuts,” he said, “we need to look at everything and weigh trade-offs. The legislature hasn’t even begun to have that discussion.”
The Stabilization Center has been closed for walk-ins since March. Services can continue to be accessed by phone through the Dutchess County Helpline, 845-485-9700 or toll free, 877-485-9700.
Minority Leader Rebecca Edwards (D-Poughkeepsie) said she had many unanswered questions. “How can the Stabilization Center be effective if it moves away from a medical treatment model? Will the Center fully re-open? Are the mobile teams affected? What’s the projected impact on hospital emergency rooms and the jail?”
Last month, in defending a controversial jail construction project funded through a $132.15 million bond issue, the County Executive argued that the county’s “heavy investment” in the Stabilization Center showed its commitment to reducing incarceration. Gregg Pulver, Chair of the Legislature, supported the jail bond while praising the county’s “holistic approach to law enforcement and justice including the Stabilization Center.”
Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Fishkill/Beacon) said, “The administration has touted the Stabilization Center as a means of relieving pressure on the overburdened jail, and allowing alternatives to incarceration to have a real chance to take hold. This latest move shows that that was nothing more than empty rhetoric, and its real-world consequences are likely to be disastrous given the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s no better way to spread an airborne respiratory virus than to cycle more people in and out of jail and back to vulnerable communities.”
“Republicans are forging ahead with a jail to house 328 people,” said Assistant Minority Leader Nick Page (D-Beacon/Fishkill), “when the jail currently has 140 people in it. It’s terrible to think that those extra cells might end up getting filled with people who can’t access addiction or mental health treatment.”
Phase 1 of the Stabilization Center opened in 2017. Its construction ran $2.6 million over budget, and the county cancelled Phase 2 after estimating that the second phase would cost $14 million, rather than the $2.2 million originally forecast. Despite this limit, as well as lack of funding for a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) prescriber for opioid patients, the Center has been lauded for its innovative and effective work.
As of May 31, 2020, the Stabilization Center had recorded 4,372 visits, 70% with a preliminary diagnosis of mental health disorder.