By Jeff Meyers, Press-Republican Plattsburgh Press-Republican July 12, 2012
SARANAC LAKE - Any public-health planning process must include equal emphasis on behavioral health, say the region’s behavioral-health leaders. The North Country Behavioral Healthcare Network, a coalition of 19 nonprofit agencies providing services across northeastern New York, has identified six key prevention strategies intended to both improve the health of the community and reduce health-care costs regionally.
County public-health departments and hospitals across the state are now developing community-prevention plans for the next three to five years. Behavioral Healthcare Network officials want those plans to include those six prevention strategies.
“We did a survey of public-health officials and not-for-profit agencies and then ranked the priorities that seemed of utmost importance,” said Barry Brogan, network executive director. “The one thing people feared is at risk the most is that we will lose school-age prevention programs targeted at alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.”
Public health and education have targeted those three areas as a priority for decades, but the need seems just as important today, he noted. “The reason people say they are concerned is that school districts are cutting back on prevention workers,” he said of the survey results. “We have made progress (against these three ‘gateway’ drugs). Statistics that have tracked these kids show an improvement over time. The use of these substances has declined.”
Officials worry they will lose the advantages they’ve gained if education about alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use is limited, he added. The survey also identified the growing abuse of prescription medications. Brogan sees it as a two-fold issue: community education and law enforcement.
“There is certainly the unintentional abuse where people legitimately receive medications but don’t keep them in a secure location, and other individuals use them in an abusive way or sell them illegally,” Brogan said. “Then there are others who load up on prescription meds for use or for selling. These people are engaged in criminal activity, and we’re very concerned about its growth.”
One specific area is to continue moving forward in a positive effort to restrict and outlaw synthetic pot and bath salts, he added.
Efforts need to focus on suicide prevention as well.
“Senator (Betty) Little has been a leader in New York state legislation in advocating for suicide prevention programming,” Brogan noted, praising her effort to provide funding across the region for suicide prevention.
He also cited the region’s positive efforts with the Eastern Adirondack Medical Home program that promotes quality health care with improved connection among hospitals, doctors’ offices and other health-care providers to offer seamless care for patients.
“These programs recognize that individuals with chronic diseases will often have a behavioral-health factor,” he said. “We need to recognize that these are inseparably connected. Doctors’ offices and mental-health clinics are still not fully integrated. We still need to move forward.”
Emphasizing the need to recruit physicians to the area who specialize in both primary care and behavioral health is also crucial, he said. “We need to cultivate our best and brightest students in the North Country to seek an education in health care and then to stay and practice in the area. Health care is a very rapidly growing area, and the North Country can offer great opportunities for our area kids who go into health care.”
Brogan is hopeful that future planning will include behavioral health, which he said has been seriously lacking in past public-health plans. “The intention of our survey and the release of information is to help us reinforce with county planners, hospitals and public-health directors that behavioral health is important part of an individual’s whole health,” Brogan said.