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East Rockaway schools join Rockville Centre Behavioral Health Center

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East Rockaway School District Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said she was grateful the district could join a new Behavioral Health Centre in Rockville Centre, where students can receive guidance and counseling.
East Rockaway School District Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said she was grateful the district could join a new Behavioral Health Centre in Rockville Centre, where students can receive guidance and counseling.
Courtesy East Rockaway School District

The East Rockaway School District has joined a partnership with Rockville Centre and several other districts in Northwell Health’s new Behavioral Health Center. The facility helps students find care for any crises they may be facing. 

The center, at 100 Merrick Road in Rockville Centre, which celebrated a ribbon cutting on Jan. 31, is a collaboration among Cohen Children’s Medical Center and the Rockville Centre, Oceanside, East Rockaway, Freeport and Hewlett-Woodmere school districts.

“I am grateful to Northwell, [State] Senator [Todd] Kaminsky and our neighboring districts for joining forces to bring this invaluable resource to our community,” East Rockaway Superintendent of Schools Lisa Ruiz said. “With the increased need for mental health services across all age groups, the level of services being offered at the clinic far exceed what any one of us districts could have done on our own.”

The out-patient facility will address suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 24, and it will also treat children dealing with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression. It will offer the services of a licensed mental health counselor and a child psychiatrist for immediate care, as well as other staff that can coordinate follow-up care. In the typical model, children are sent to emergency rooms, and it can take four to six weeks for a follow-up.

“It’s a crisis across the country that’s present in emergency rooms,” Dr. Vera Feuer, the center’s director, said. “Kids have no other way to get same-day access, and a lot of time is spent delaying care before they can get to a provider that will be able to initiate treatment.”

As soon as a parent or the school identifies that a child has a problem, Feuer explained, the clinic’s child psychiatrist can provide an assessment and evaluation, determine whether there is an immediate risk and if care is needed, such as medication or counseling, or if the child should go to the hospital.

“And if they need ongoing care,” Feuer said, “we’re able to link them with ongoing community providers that are partners in this.”

Gina-Marie Bounds, assistant vice president of the pediatric service line at Northwell Health — and a Rockville Centre resident with four children — was instrumental in making the program happen. She presented the proposal to each of the participating school districts over the past few months.

Kaminsky said that given the stigma surrounding mental health and the high cost of care, the available resources are inadequate. “We’re realizing that our schools have become ground zero for being first responders and being the institution that deals with mental health on such a frequent basis,” Kaminsky said. “It’s important for them to have the tools to be able to handle it properly.”

The opening of this facility, he said, is an important step forward. “There are a lot of kids from a lot of districts that can use this support,” Kaminsky said. “It is a crisis of our time that we’re just beginning to grasp.”

—Mike Smollins contributed to this story.