Queens local elected officials joined members of Commonpoint Queens on Thursday, March 3, to celebrate the opening of a new mental health center that will care for the most vulnerable young people in the borough and region.
Commonpoint Queens is dedicating The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Adolescent Mental Health Wing in their Sam Field facility, located at 58-20 Little Neck Pkwy., to meet the urgent mental health needs of more than 1,500 adolescents and young adults.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Council members Sandra Ung, Linda Lee and Vickie Paladino, and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi joined Commonpoint Queens CEO Danielle Ellman for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility.
As the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic is approaching, Ellman reflected on the public health crisis that included a mental health crisis impacting adolescents, who had to cope with school closings. The stress and isolation caused by the pandemic have made the need for mental health care greater than ever, Ellman said.
“We are committed to expanding access to that care for all our kids, without barriers. As experts in working with adolescents, we saw it as our duty to provide the critical services our youth so desperately need,” Ellman said.
Standing outside of the building before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ellman shared a story of a young man in their program. According to Ellman, the high school junior had suicidal thoughts after his father learned of his sexuality and became emotionally abusive.
The abuse affected the teen, causing his grades to slip in school. When Commonpoint Queens provided counseling and support, the teen started to show improvement and his grades were shifting upwards, Ellman said.
The teen shared with them that after working with a mental health counselor, he is certain that the clinic will be a great benefit to the community.
“I think we know that our young people are the future in our world and they’re the ones that we’re doing this for,” Ellman said. “Young people need to be assisted in becoming the finest versions of themselves and that’s exactly what we hope to accomplish here in this clinic.”
The new mental health center is part of Commonpoint Queens’ vision to create a mental health and social service hub.
Youth ages 13-24 are in a period between childhood and adulthood and often their specific needs are misdiagnosed, disregarded and minimized, according to Commonpoint Queens.
There can also be very little coordination and collaboration between the traditional physical and mental health systems leading to missed and failed diagnoses of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and very little detection and action around tackling social issues such as food and housing insecurity that drive up to 80% of poor health outcomes.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Adolescent Mental Health Wing’s integrated health care model directly addresses the unique issues faced by high-needs youth allowing young people barrier-free access to medical, mental health and social services while fostering true collaboration among a multidisciplinary team of practitioners and building a partnership with families to develop shared plans of care.
To maximize positive health outcomes and referral completion, Commonpoint Queens is bringing family navigators and integrated care coordinators into their existing range of social services and using shared technology platforms to allow secure, multidirectional communication among providers and track key physical, behavioral, social and economic outcomes.
The clinic will also offer support and psychoeducational groups teaching essential life skills related to health and overall wellness such as healthy eating and body image, sex, sexuality and gender.
Similar programs have shown that over 60% of referrals made by health care providers to the behavioral health program were completed, a rate that far exceeds the 20% rate nationally. Additionally, engagement in on-site social services for families facing financial hardship leads to successful receipt of public benefits in a majority of cases.
Commonpoint Queens estimates that in the clinic’s first year, they will provide critical mental health services to 1,500 adolescents primarily from low-income households and communities of color, and immigrant families. Their projected client base will come from their existing programs in 10 New York City public high schools serving 7,000 students.
Their in-school programs provide a wide range of services including attendance interventions, mental health counseling, community service opportunities, mentoring, tutoring, college access support — SAT/ACT prep, college list development, college essay and college tours — and more.
As an Article 31 clinic for decades, Commonpoint Queens is uniquely positioned to provide these services to the community with extensive experience in youth development, adolescent services and mental health care by providing community school services in 10 major NYC Department of Education high schools.
Lawrence Gottlieb, chair of Commonpoint Queens’ board of directors, noted that children’s lack of socializing and the shift to online learning greatly affected their mental health.
Commonpoint Queens’ clinic was created following the results of a survey conducted by staff members of more than 6,000 young people at the height of the pandemic, Gottlieb said.
“What we found was astonishing rates of isolation, anxiety and depression among our young people. The clinic will remove barriers to high-quality mental health care for those who couldn’t normally afford it or have the opportunity,” Gottlieb said.
Councilwoman Linda Lee, who is the chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Addictions and Disabilities, said she is excited to welcome the mental health center to northeastern Queens.
“For two years, the stresses of the pandemic and isolation have taken a toll on the mental wellbeing of our kids. They deserve dedicated, supportive services to help them rebound and thrive as they grow up,” Lee said. “This program will provide a proven model of accessible, professional and mental healthcare to all of our young people who need it.”
Borough President Donovan Richards commended Commonpoint Queens for launching the innovative clinic, that he says will greatly enhance the quality and accessibility of mental health care for adolescents in the “World’s Borough.”
“Traveling through the borough I get to hear a little bit from everyone, whether it’s the schools, community organizations, and our children are in crisis, without a doubt,” Richards said. “This is such an important issue. There’s so much stigma attached to mental health services, and today Commonpoint is shedding that stigma by opening up its doors. It’s cool to talk to someone. It’s cool to have somebody you can talk to. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘I need help.’”
To learn more about the mental health clinic and to request an appointment, visit commonpointqueens.org/program/youth-mental-health-services.
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.