Modified: January 18, 2023 2:21pm

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Today, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz testified on the importance of access to quality mental health services at a public hearing held by NYS Attorney General Letitia James at the downtown public library. In his comments (presented in full below) County Executive Poloncarz outlined county initiatives to help students and families through the SMART Collaborative as well as the community mental health work of the county Office of Health Equity and the Department of Mental Health. Poloncarz also voiced strong support for NYS Governor Hochul’s recent calls for increasing available beds for inpatient psychiatric treatment, increasing insurance coverage for mental health services, and expanding outpatient mental health services.



Comments of ECE Mark C. Poloncarz as prepared for delivery to NYS AG James’ Mental Health Task Force Hearing of January 18, 2023:


“Thank you and good morning. On behalf of the residents of Erie County, welcome to Attorney General Letitia James, and thank you for holding this public hearing on the very important topic of access to mental health services for all.


There is a mental health crisis in America. From addressing the opioid and addiction epidemic, to the lack of appropriate housing for those suffering from a mental health problem, to the mental health issue facing our children in a post Covid-19 environment, our nation is facing a crisis unlike any other.


Due to our role as the key partner in the provision of health and mental health services to our community, Erie County has been an active partner in addressing all of these issues.


As County Executive, I have made it priority of my administration to increase access to mental health services for all throughout my tenure. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the May 14th mass shooting, and, most recently, the Christmas Blizzard of last month, the need to access mental health services for all has never been more important.


I would like to use my brief time today to share what steps my administration has taken recently to help our residents.  I will also speak in support of several initiatives currently being discussed that have my full support.


First, our newest initiative is Erie County SMART Collaborative. SMART, Supporting Mental Health by Advocating for Resources Together, is an initiative that brings together pre-school through 12th grade educators, community agencies, and Erie County representatives to collaborate on available Mental Health and Social Emotional Learning tools within our community.


The goal of Erie County SMART is to ensure our students and their families are connected to the many mental health services available. For example, to be launched later this year, one of the immediate SMART tools will be a smartphone app that allows parents to connect with and access Mental Health services specifically tailored for their child’s needs.


Thank you to all partners involved in the SMART initiative, including Erie 1 and Erie 2 BOCES and all local school districts.


Next, Erie County’s Office of Health Equity will begin offering Mental Health First Aid training for 2,000 members of our community in the coming weeks. This free first aid training is to help those in our community who need to have the knowledge on how to recognize and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges in adults and youth throughout Erie County.


We know that the first step to helping someone suffering is identifying the signs, and this training will equip more individuals with the necessary tools to do just that and assist those in need.


These are just a few ways Erie County is working together to help address the mental health crisis in our community that is affecting of types of residents. However, we know there are no silver bullets in public policy to address a crisis like this, and that is why I support many of the initiatives unveiled recently by Governor Kathy Hochul at here State of the State address.


I wholeheartedly endorse Governor Hochul’s call to increase the operational capacity by 1,000 beds for inpatient psychiatric treatment that will create 3,500 units of housing to serve New Yorkers with mental illness. Unfortunately, the deinstitutionalization of those suffering from a serious mental health issue resulted in some of those people being housed in hospitals or prisons, and that is not acceptable. Our County Mental Health Department also supports this call, and believes it will help alleviate the issues facing the Erie County Medical Center’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, also known as CPEP.


I also support Governor Hochul’s call to increase insurance coverage for mental health services, expand outpatient Mental Health services, and better account for hospital admissions and discharges to address the needs of those suffering from mental illness.


These are just a few of the steps necessary to begin addressing this crisis that Erie County would not be able to do on its own. I ask all New York State partners in government to support these initiatives to build a stronger, better, and healthier Erie County and New York State for all. Thank you again to Attorney General Letitia James for hosting this hearing and raising awareness on ways we can work together to help those suffering get the help they need.”




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