Mental health clinic for children and teens opens in Suffolk

Due to the growing need for mental health services for children and adolescents, Northwell Health, in partnership with local school districts, has opened a pediatric behavioral emergency center, the first in Suffolk County and the third on Long Island.

The Commack outpatient facility will provide assessments, referrals and short-term care including medication for young patients and help them connect them to a longer-term care plan, officials said.

Services are available to students from Commack, Half Hollow Hills, Hauppauge, Sachem Central, Smithtown Central and South Huntington. Clinicians at the center will also support and train staff in these school districts. Northwell has opened two additional pediatric behavior centers in Nassau County since 2020.

Parents across the country are struggling to find and afford available resources for child and adolescent mental health at a time when more and more of them are showing signs of anxiety and depression. Experts have said some of the causes are isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools have been closed and activities suspended.

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“Many parents know their child needs help, but they couldn’t find anyone,” said Dr. Vera Feuer, Director of Emergency Psychiatry at Northwell’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. “We’re a place where they can start, do a psychiatric evaluation, and outline the treatment plan and needs.”

Feuer said the mental health system is complex and can be daunting for parents navigating a time when their child needs help.

“We have care management coordinators and our counselors help families get what they need for their children,” she said.

Feuer said some parents of children in a mental health crisis took them to hospital emergency rooms because they didn’t know where else to go.

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“This is not the ideal place for mental health care,” she said, except in cases where the child has a medical need, has used drugs, or is behaving violently. “Often there is no real connection to ongoing care.”

Northwell opened two emergency behavioral health care centers in Nassau County with local school districts — one at Rockville Center in early 2020 and a second in Mineola in 2021. The two locations have served over 3,400 students to date, officials said.

Services at all three locations are only available to students in those school districts

Under an agreement between Northwell and Western Suffolk BOCES, school districts pay between $69,225 and $95,850 per year depending on eligible students.

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Referrals to the center come from schools, but parents can also look for services themselves. Those with insurance will be charged, but officials said families without insurance will not be turned away.

“Our district is fortunate to have comprehensive student staff teams in each building who can intervene and cater to students with diverse social, emotional and behavioral needs,” April Propilo, assistant superintendent of South Huntington Student Services, said in a statement. “This partnership will complement and enhance our existing continuum of mental health services with a coordinated approach to care.”

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