Focusing on mental health

John Christensen
A group of about 25 attended a poorly promoted focus group on mental health needs in Yates County last week.

Seeking input on Mental Health Services in Yates County, the New York State Office of Mental Health held focus groups March 28 at Dundee Central School and Penn Yan Elementary School. But with very short notice, many who wished to were unable to attend. 

Hannah Dickinson, who has been active in community meetings about the potential closure of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital’s inpatient behavioral health unit, said, “This meeting is occurring, in part, because this group has made it clear to our elected officials, in the press, and with our neighbors that mental healthcare is a life and death issue in our region. Now is our next chance to make clear that we fully support expanded mental health services in Yates County and that the inpatient mental health unit is an important part of the services our community needs and deserves.”

Pam Brannan of the New York State Office of Mental Health, working with AspireHope NY Inc. staff from Bath, organized and hosted the focus groups and apologized for the extreme late notice. Aimed at families and children, many of the Penn Yan attendees were actually healthcare providers, educators, and some political figures. The attendees offered their observations and opinions in four categories: What is Working, What is Not Working, Needs, and Barriers. Largely, those came to a lack of professionals seeing patients, and access for rural communities like ours to pediatric mental health care.

Penn Yan Central School Superintendent Howard Dennis said, “I am encouraged that with very short notice, approximately 25 people showed up to help paint a realistic picture of the struggles that we are facing regarding mental health services in Yates County. I think the community was able to give real life examples of struggles, and was able to brainstorm creative ideas and solutions to some of those issues. This will not be a quick fix, but for the first time many people are talking about the issue.” He added, “I am also hopeful that with the support of our elected officials and representatives and the involvement of the State Office of Mental Health — we will be able to put real, supportive programming in place for our residents.”

Kelly Houck, Dundee Central School Superintendent, says neither she nor any of the Dundee School Board were able to attend Dundee’s focus group because it was not scheduled in coordination with the school, and conflicted with the board’s annual budget meeting. “Had we been involved, we could have suggested other dates and gotten the word out to the community much sooner,” says Houck, who adds she has heard no feedback on the event in Dundee nor heard how many attended.

At the school board meeting, Houck reported on mental health issues Dundee is facing. “In my opinion we have become a lost county in New York State.” Following these focus groups, Houck hopes businesses & industries, faith communities, and local government will be involved together to seek solutions. 

Houck says area officials will be meeting April 22 in Penn Yan with State Sen. Tom O’Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, and U.S. Rep. Tom Reed in a round table session. “I am hopeful we will see some actual resources put into place,” says Houck.

Comments can be sent to Pam Brannan at For answers regarding access to care, call her at 716-533-4079.