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“I’ve never seen anything like this before”: The state of mental health care in the Finger Lakes

Mental health care in New York has reached a crisis point as the number of patients seeking care overpowers the number of available services.

Attorney General Letitia James said New York is in the midst of a mental health crisis, according to a statement last week.

Fingerlakes1.com spoke to three different mental health professionals in the Geneva area to get their take on the current crisis and what is being done to help.

Finger Lakes area providers discuss current crisis (video)


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Too many people, not enough staff

John Eichenberger, a licensed mental health counselor and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (Level Two), is the sole proprietor of Hope and Help Counseling in Geneva.

Eichenberger explained that people everywhere are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress due to the amount of bad news there is nowadays- the COVID-19 pandemic, shootings and the economy- which creates a surge in people wanting to seek help, but not having enough professionals to go around.

Amanda Felice, a licensed mental health therapist and the Director of Behavioral Health at Finger Lakes Community Health, said the list of qualified mental health professionals was already short, and after the pandemic, it got worse.

“We’re starting to hire more. But with that comes training. If we can get you in with a therapist, maybe we’ll work with another office in the area that could get you in quicker than we could,” said Felice.

“We’re trying to work together to kind of assess this crisis. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

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State of services before and after pandemic

According to Eichenberger, before the pandemic, there were shortages in clinics and hospitals. However, once the pandemic hit, things took a turn for the worse.

“Before the pandemic, a lot of us were doing okay in terms of people seeking help and us being able to sustain an environment that could provide that. After the pandemic, we’re getting overwhelmed in terms of the number of people calling up.”

After the pandemic, more people are seeking out mental health care than ever before.

“While there is still stigma attached to people seeking help for mental health, it seems to have gotten a little bit less stigmatized. And I think that’s a good thing,” said Eichenberger.


Options to address shortage

According to Ardelle Bigos, the Chief Nursing Officer at Finger Lakes Health, what would help the most with these shortages and not enough appointments is expanding technology.

“I think across healthcare, we just have to keep expanding on the technology tools that we have available to reach out to the communities. And collaboration is number one. How do we work all together to be able to provide those services?”

Bigos also said the current movement to develop reciprocity between different states could help ease the lack of providers. This would mean if you’re licensed as a mental health counselor in one state, you could offer your services in another state.

The Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT) was created to allow psychologists to practice temporary in-person or telepsychology across state lines. Additionally, related legislation- Senate Bill S9234– is currently in committee.

“I certainly think it would be a good thing if they could figure out a way to make sure that qualified people are available to the most people possible,” said Eichenberger.

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