The Westchester Medical Center Health Network, more commonly known as WMCHealth, which has its headquarters in Valhalla, is teaming up with Dutchess County in a new initiative to help cope with mental health issues in the Hudson Valley.

According to a report by Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profiles, as of 2019 there had been a decline in the rate of mental health clinic visits in the region since 2001. While there were six visits per 100,000 residents in 2001, by 2019 that number had fallen slightly to 5.8 visits per 100,000 residents. Dutchess County had a 30% decline, the largest in the region and substantially higher than the overall 4% decline. In Orange County, there were 4.8 mental health clinic visits per 100,000 residents while Putnam had 4.9 visits per 100,000.

According to Alvernia University in Reading, Pennsylvania, “Behavioral health is a blanket term that includes mental health. Behavioral health looks at how behaviors impact someone’s health — physical and mental. These issues can include depression, anxiety,  diabetes management, weight loss, smoking cessation and drinking or drug use problems.”

MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie. Photo via Google Maps.
MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie. Photo via Google Maps.

WMCHealth operates MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie and it’s there that a new Behavioral Health Center of Excellence is being established. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro explained that Dutchess County will provide $3 million in funding that will partially go toward permanently adding 20 inpatient behavioral health beds at MidHudson Regional, increasing the total number of available mental health beds at this facility to 60. It also will fund updating shared community spaces and nursing stations in these areas, in order to enhance the healing environment while prioritizing a safe environment for patients and workforce members.

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Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

“Dutchess County has long prioritized the importance of mental health, and the forthcoming Behavioral Health Center of Excellence at MidHudson Regional Hospital represents Dutchess County’s latest commitment … to ensure those living with mental health issues receive the compassionate care they deserve, close to home,” Molinaro said. “This new center, the result of an extraordinary public-private partnership, will not only change lives, it will save them. This is part of our ongoing investment in strengthening the mental health continuum of care.”

In addition to enhancing physical facilities, the partnership between WMCHealth and Dutchess County has an overall goal of establishing a continuum of care between private and public resources that will help ensure the best possible behavioral health patient outcomes.

Staff from the county’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health will be assigned to the new Behavioral Health Center. The idea is to help facilitate a seamless transition for discharged patients to continue their recovery by utilizing the extensive behavioral health programs available throughout the county for residents with mental health or substance use issues, using every available resource to help support patients as they recover. Clinical staff will undergo training regarding the role that trauma has likely played in the lives of individuals in need of mental health services.

According to Michael D. Israel, president and CEO of WMCHealth, “Creating a Center of Excellence to address the community’s behavioral health needs will benefit Dutchess County tremendously and complement our work throughout the Hudson Valley to deliver quality behavioral health care while expanding and enhancing these vital services in the communities we serve.”

In Ulster County, just across the Hudson River from Dutchess, WMCHealth announced that 20 inpatient mental health beds will be located in the expanded HealthAlliance Hospital on Mary’s Avenue in Kingston. WMCHealth is the largest provider of behavioral health services in the Hudson Valley with a total of 205 inpatient behavioral health beds.

The plan to create the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence at MidHudson Regional Hospital requires approval by the New York State Department of Health and New York State Office of Mental Health. With that in hand, WMCHealth can proceed to finalize design and planning for the renovations. Construction on the project will be phased in order to avoid temporarily needing to take a significant number of inpatient behavioral health beds offline for an extended period. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed late next year.

WMCHealth has approximately 1,700 beds in nine hospitals on seven campuses spanning 6,200 square miles of the Hudson Valley. It employs more than 13,000 people and has nearly 3,000 attending physicians. There are Level I (adult and pediatric), Level II and Level III trauma centers, the region’s only acute care children’s hospital, an academic medical center, several community hospitals, dozens of specialized institutes and centers, stroke centers, skilled nursing, assisted living facilities, home-care services and one of the largest mental health systems in New York state.