OSWEGO — The Oswego County Department of Social Services will begin piloting a new school-based mental health program in select local schools this summer, with eyes toward the start of the 2019-2020 school year for the program to be operational.

The Oswego County Legislature recently approved a $30,000 funding package for each new mental health school-based clinic at Mexico High School, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Junior and Senior High School and Michael A. Maroun Elementary School in Phoenix.

Stacy Alvord, Department of Social Services (DSS) commissioner, said the program’s goal is to propagate throughout all nine school districts in the county by 2024.

“The expectation is that we give some money to launch and they get to be able to be self-sustaining,” Alvord said.

Syracuse-based non-profit organization and health provider Liberty Resources, fresh off breaking ground at its Fulton health center location, is working with individual school buildings to develop partnership agreements, according to Nicole Kolmsee, director of community services for the county Department of Social Services.

The mental health team assigned to each school will review student referrals submitted by parents, guardians and school personnel and maintain contact with guardians to decide what supports and services the student needs. The program costs families no out-of-pocket expenses and charges insurance companies, which could require co-payments.

After a five-year implementation process, the program’s goal is to fill in gaps of mental health programs whose contracts through the DSS will expire without renewal by the 2019-2020 school year at Fulton City School District, Hannibal Central School District, Oswego City School District and Central Square School District.

Kolmsee said officials from the county’s nine school districts prioritized five districts with the greatest need for mental health clinics — Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central School District, Mexico Academy and Central School District, Sandy Creek Central School District, Phoenix Central School District and Pulaski Academy and Central School District.

“We requested the superintendents group across all districts in the county to provide us with that feedback...which schools they thought needed the most support,” Kolmsee told The Palladium-Times Tuesday.

Of those five districts, the county is honing in on three sites in particular — Mexico High School, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Junior and Senior High School and Michael A. Maroun Elementary School — which officials say will have operational mental health clinics by the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

Sean Bruno, Mexico Academy and Central School District superintendent, told The Palladium-Times he was “grateful” to receive the support for an effort that will provide overall school and community safety and wellness.

“I really can’t thank the [Oswego County] Legislature enough for providing the seed money and I appreciate the partnership with liberty resources,” said Bruno, reached by phone Tuesday.

Bruno added caseworkers would take on 20 to 30 cases at a time.

“I think it will be an incredible level of support for students who know they have those needs,” he said. “These are the types of things that keep communities safer in many different facets.”

With only one provider shared by three sites, Kolmsee said she anticipates it will take longer to achieve one site in every building in the county and recruit health providers. On Tuesday, Liberty Resources posted a list of job openings for “school based mental health therapists” at MACS and Phoenix Central School District. 

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