KINGSTON, NY — City officials are seeking authorization to spend approximately $320,000 in grant funding to establish a mobile mental health team for Kingston.
The city was awarded a $321,034 grant from the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal to set up a mobile mental health team as a pilot program, Ruth Ann Devitt-Frank, the director of the city’s Office of Grants Management, said during a meeting of the Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee on Wednesday. She said the grant was awarded last week and was a one-time Community Development Block Grant as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act program.
The funding would be used to create a mobile mental health team as part of the Kingston Fire Department to respond to non-violent calls for assistance, officials have said. The team would be designed to offer services in place of sending a police officer to handle mental health calls. The police department would still be dispatched to handle any calls that could involve the threat of violence.
“The concept is to develop a special program that’s based in Kingston for Kingston residents in which a team of a social worker and an emergency worker will work together to respond to emergency calls for assistance when people are in crisis,” Devitt-Frank said. “The purpose is to try to help people avoid going to the hospital if they don’t really need to or being arrested for their behavior.” She said the county has a similar program that serves all of Ulster County but the city’s version would be dedicated only to Kingston.
At Devitt-Frank’s request, the committee endorsed a resolution authorizing the city to spend the grant funding to create the program. The resolution must still be voted on by the full council, which meets again next month.
The council on Tuesday adopted a related resolution authorizing the city to request a certificate of need from the state Department of Health to operate its own ambulance service as part of the creation of the co-response mobile mental health team. The ambulance service would be used to transport patients in need of further mental health treatment to the appropriate facility.
The team is expected to respond to calls between 10 am and 6 pm, Monday through Friday.
City Fire Chief Chris Rea said because the team is being created as a pilot program it would give Kingston time to determine the actual cost and demand for services before deciding whether to renew it for a second year. He said the team and its ambulance would be housed within the fire department and utilize a firefighter as the emergency services worker to partner with the social worker.
The city’s firefighters are also certified emergency medical technicians.
Mayor Steve Noble previously told aldermen the city had also set aside $700,000 from its federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay the salaries of the mental health practitioner and EMTs for the next few years.