Community services

Community Services Coordinator seeks to connect people to support | Local News

PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services is looking to fill gaps in the behavioral health care continuum with a new Community Services Coordinator position.

Chris Arnold, a trained addictions counselor and former Clinton County Mobile Crisis Team Coordinator, started in February. The main goals of his work are to connect individuals to the services they need when they come into contact with the criminal justice system and to strengthen the mental health training of local law enforcement officers.

“I think it builds on all the strengths and things I’ve done over the years,” the 47-year-old told the Press-Republican in an interview. “It’s a position that has kind of a big like, ‘do this, this, that,’ and then you can do all these other things because the community needs it and I’m really excited about it.”


One of the most important tasks was the launch of the Law Enforcement Mental Health Referral System, abbreviated as LEMHRS.

The exploration of the program, first piloted in Essex County, was a recommendation made last year by the Clinton County Law Enforcement Review Committee, on which the Director of Community Services of the county, Richelle Gregory, 47 years old.

In addition to implementing LEMHRS, Gregory proposed Arnold’s position to the County Legislature, the idea being that Clinton County would see more removals than Essex County due to its population base. .

So far, LEMHRS has been deployed in State Police, the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, and the City of Plattsburgh Police.

“It’s a way for law enforcement officers to make a direct referral to a behavioral health person,” Arnold said.


The program helps fill a huge gap observed by many local professionals, he continued.

There are times when an officer gets involved with someone he’s not going to arrest and doesn’t need to be hospitalized immediately.

“They (the officer) would like to connect them to a service, and there was never a good way to do that,” Arnold said.

Law enforcement carried phone numbers and handed out pamphlets, then hoped the person would make those calls because they couldn’t follow up.

With LEMHRS, officers can use handheld devices or a computer to complete a referral form with a few required fields and options for additional information.

Arnold receives these referrals within seconds. He responds to the agent to confirm receipt and let them know he will begin the engagement process.

“The more information the officer gives the better, (like) what triggered the interaction…, what were some of the concerns, what are some of the safety issues, and then was the person receptive to the recommendation,” he said.

“Some people, absolutely; the others don’t want it. We still want those referrals made because then we can start to follow up, we’ll just do it a little more tactfully with the person.


Arnold then seeks to connect the individual with a provider, first seeing if he has a relationship with the Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services clinic where he is based.

If the person was still in crisis, they would seek to engage the mobile crisis team or, in some cases, facilitate a mental health rescue to hospitalize them.

“That’s really, what the person needs, and that’s what’s so exciting about it, is we can meet someone where they are, we can connect them with the services he chooses, we can just give him information if he says, ‘No, I’m not interested right now.’

Gregory said LEMHRS is intended to provide a response to the referred person within 24 to 48 hours.

As of Wednesday, Arnold had received 16 referrals from local law enforcement agencies, six of which were new engagements with people who had no history or connection to behavioral health providers.


Arnold’s work has also involved rolling out mental health training for officers.

“I think it’s on that continuum of identifying officers who really have a propensity, a propensity — really do a good job with our people when they really have psychiatric difficulties and give them additional training,” said he declared.

Arnold said the community is blessed with very good officers, so the training aims to develop them and have them work with mental health professionals.

“This is law enforcement mental health first responder, who will be trained primarily by Bonnie Black,” Arnold said. Black recently retired from BHSN after years leading its employee assistance program, in addition to his involvement in other initiatives.

Additionally, Arnold and Black are slated to be part of the state’s next series of “train the trainers” for crisis response training.

Gregory expects all training to take place this year, but noted that what she really thinks Arnold’s position is about is relationships.

“Building on our current relationships and ease of access for agents, right? So it’s easier if they know the person, can trust them and we make it as easy as possible for them while they do their daily work.


Arnold also works with the Clinton County Jail on inmate drug treatment, helping to assess and qualify them for the program.

He also wants to explore how to connect with these people when they get out of prison, making sure they keep up with appointments and offering support.

“I think there are big glaring shortcomings and then there are these other little bits that I can just say, ‘Oh hey, wait, I can make these phone calls because it takes me 10 minutes’, so we let’s do it.”


Gregory explained how Clinton County was targeted by the state for the development of a law enforcement mental health diversion program because the county incarcerates a higher percentage of the mentally ill than the average in the state.

As a result, funding from the State Office of Mental Health covered the position of Community Services Coordinator, LEMHRS, trainings and a peer forensic specialist set up in partnership with the National Alliance for Disease Mental-Champlain Valley. This person, along with Arnold, works with the public at the Mental Health Court.

“Again, another piece of the continuum of people involved in the criminal justice system,” Gregory said.

She expects several revenue streams that flow into the clinic, such as drug treatment support at the Clinton County Jail, to continue to support Arnold’s position.

She also anticipates that the county’s model will be replicated if successful.

“There has been interest in this position and I’m sure it will be watched very closely,” Gregory said.

“So hopefully we’re going to start something that doesn’t just benefit Clinton County and not just Essex County or the North Country. I hope it’s something that benefits the state and can -to be in the nation at some level.