MONTICELLO - District Attorney (DA) Meagan Galligan appeared before the Sullivan County Legislature's Public Safety Committee last week and detailed an alarming story.
The prior week an individual in Liberty was having a mental health crisis and was brought to Garnet Health Medical Center - Catskills by law enforcement and was immediately released from the Emergency Department.
Two days later, the individual was running down Harris Road holding large knives.
“Police are repeatedly confronting people who they just brought to the hospital,” Galligan said.
The DA's office and law enforcement agencies have been battling mental health crises, she said, and in the past two months it has really ramped up.
Galligan spoke of another incident in which an individual was threatening members of the Liberty Central School District and was later found to be in possession of guns.
“It creates a hostile situation and we really have to tackle it,” she urged.
She said she is working with Jonathan Schiller, CEO of Garnet Health Medical Center - Catskills to address these issues.
Schiller said patients present themselves in a variety of ways, either brought in by a family member, police, ambulance or referral by the mobile mental health team.
Hospital admittance and treatment may depend on the patient's history, if they are already seeing a treating psychiatrist, and if they are prescribed medication.
Schiller says many times a patient is brought to the hospital because they stopped taking their medication, and the hospital is able to stabilize them with medication and release them or they may require admission.
“Every case is so unique and individual,” Schiller said.
The hospital has an in-patient mental health unit with 18 beds for people 18 years and older (there are no children's mental health units in Sullivan or Orange counties).
The patient's average stay time is seven to ten days and is usually a continuation of treatment from the outpatient side and often includes a medication change.
“During that time we ensure the patient's out-patient support systems are strong,” Schiller said, which may include having a stable residence, a psychiatric provider and financial supports.
Since the start of the year Schiller said the number of mental health patients has increased slightly, and that it likely is due to the effects of the pandemic.
“Even for people who had strong mental health the last year was very stressful and taxing,” he said. “And for people who had an existing mental health illness or condition the past year really may have put them into struggle.”
Schiller urged those who are experiencing a mental health crisis or know someone who is to seek help.
“We can avoid some of the cases Meagan [Galligan] refers to if people get help early,” he said. “Sometimes it's about being afraid or stigmatizing mental health illness, but it's something we as a community can work on.”
[This is part one of a series that will take a look at mental health in Sullivan County; what are the current issues, what are the solutions, and who is working to create a healthier county?]