They have nowhere to go . . . nowhere nearby at least. When children from uninsured families are in crisis, the only option is sending them to the psychiatric emergency program at Stony Brook University Hospital, nearly 60 miles away.
And when they are released, according to Reverend Doctor Katrina Foster, "There's no follow up, there's no after care. The child is back in the classroom the next day."
Rev. Foster, who is the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Amagansett and Incarnation Church in Water Mill and a member of the strategic committee formed last year after the suicide of East Hampton High School student David Hernandez, spoke before the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday night, urging members to restore cuts to local services.
Mental health services for uninsured families in East Hampton just don't exist, she said. While she expressed an understanding of the difficulty faced by elected officials attempting to solve fiscal woes, Rev. Foster said, more and more, she and school officials are seeing what's happening as a result of these cuts – "There's an incredible number of people not able to get mental health services." The need is great, she said, "far beyond" her capacity as a provider of pastoral counseling, "and I have nowhere to refer them."
On Friday, East Hampton High School Principal Adam Fine and school psychologist Ralph Naglieri continued to paint the bleak picture. Fine estimated about 30 students at the high school per year could be characterized as "in crisis."
If a child suffers a mental problem in school, district officials first contact his or her parents. If they can't transport the patient to Stony Brook, school officials must call the police. The teen is taken to the hospital – a 58 plus mile trip – in a police car, Fine said, adding, "and police don't change their protocol for children."
The Family Service League provides mental health services for uninsured and underinsured patients in East Hampton. But, Naglieri said, "If we make a referral, they can be on a waiting list for three to four months. That's how much they [Family Service league] are inundated."
Last spring following the Hernandez suicide, the East Hampton school district began to work in collaboration with the New York State Office of Mental Health. Officials there, said Fine, were "shocked" by the lack of services, not just in East Hampton, but across both the North and South Forks. In fact, while state officials lauded East Hampton's response to the suicide, which included an in-depth study of the high school's culture and climate, they placed the district on their "at risk" list due to the lack of accessible services for the community's most vulnerable members.
As the effort to avoid another tragedy progressed, last spring high school officials worked with counterparts to host a community forum in Southampton. Tonight, East Hampton High School will be the venue for another "Evening of Healing and Dialogue."
Brook Yonick from the state Office of Mental Health and Melanie Puorto, director of the New York State Suicide Prevention Initiative are slated to be the guest speakers. They'll discuss students' grief needs after suicide, common myths and facts about suicide, common warning signs, and more. There will be an opportunity for questions and answers as well.
Grappling with a double digit deficit, in 2011 Supervisor Bill Wilkinson cuts dozens of jobs from the town payroll, not filling positions left vacant by employees who took advantage of a retirement incentive. The Human Services department saw the largest exodus of employees.