2013-08-30 / Letters

Another Take On Addabbo Center

Dear Editor:

As an employee of the Joseph P Addabbo Mental Health Clinic who was laid off after 17 ½ years with the Program, I read with interest Sylvester Okonkwo, Chairperson Board of Trustees’ “It’s my Turn” commentary about the Agency. I would like to comment on several issues that Mr. Okonkwo addressed.

Mr. Okonkwo provided results of a 2011 study indicating that the Addabbo Center scored significantly higher than other FQHC facilities in NY State and in the US in a number of key areas including prenatal care and vaccinations. What Mr. Okonkwo failed to mention is that this “distinction” was made at a time when Dr. J.R. Peter Nelson was CEO and Dr. Nelson’s hard work and years of dedicated leadership no doubt had a great deal to do with this achievement. Surprisingly, the Board chose to remove Dr. Nelson from his position of Addabbo CEO earlier this year.

Mr. Okonkwo indicates that “other agencies are better at providing mental health care because that is their core mission.” This is not true. In 2000-2003, thanks to Clinic Director Fern Zagor and CEO Dr. Nelson’s mutual understanding of the needs of the community, the Addabbo Mental Health Clinic applied for and received an 8.4 million dollar grant to operate Project PRYSE. The overwhelmingly positive results of Project PRYSE’s impact on the community are discussed in an article that is available online by the Institute for Alternative Futures titled “Community Health Centers Leveraging the Social Determinants of Health”. In that article, CEO Dr. Nelson is quoted as saying, “When about 70 percent of your health is determined by your environment and your decisions about your environment and life conditions, and only 30 percent is determined by what we call the medical health systems; it becomes obvious where we need to direct more attention and money. I think this is the most important step that American health care needs to take in order to improve the health of the population.” Sadly, in 2013, Addabbo’s Board abandoned this mission.

Regarding changes in funding: Other agencies realize that with the current restructuring of funding for Mental Health and Healthcare in general, more innovative means of funding needs to be sought after and acquired. In the Mental Health field, Agencies stay afloat through grants that supplement their regular program funding. Currently grant monies are heavily available for anti-violence programs, something seri- ously needed in Rockaway as evidenced by the continued gun violence and the tragic loss of life of Rockaway’s youth as recently as this past week. Ironically, Addabbo Mental Health was a pioneer in this type of programming over 10 years ago with Project PRYSE. It’s sad that the Board of Directors has abandoned the “True Agency Mission” that Dr. Nelson grasped so dearly for so many years.

Mr. Okonkwo indicates that every mental health patient will have their mental health needs addressed at other agencies. However, Mr. Okonkwo failed to mention that the Children’s Day Treatment School Program (CDT) was also eliminated along with the Mental Health Clinic. CDT provided an intensive combination of mental health and education services designed to prevent hospitalization. It is impossible for these students to be placed in other CDT programs in the community because none exist. The programs that do exist are a considerable distance away and have limited openings, if any, for additional students. As a result both the mental health and educational needs of these children are likely to be compromised by their being placed in educational programs that are not adequate in addressing these needs correctly.

What Mr. Okonkwo didn’t address is the possibility that the Addabbo Board may have been advised that Medical Physicians are able to see a far greater number of medical patients per day than Mental Health Clinicians are, and that the offices of the Mental Health Department could be more profitably utilized if they were converted into medical treatment rooms as is being done since the Mental Health Department closed. The error in the logic of this reasoning is that even if they were staffed with unpaid medical interns, a significant increase in the number of medical patients served at the site would be required for increased profitability. Given the saturation of medical services in the community, and the upcoming opening of a New FREE Healthcare clinic by Doctors of the World on Beach 102nd Street, those additional patients may not materialize and the end result would only be a reduced waiting time for current patients since more treatment rooms would be available.

In closing I have to say that I am aware that some Board members reside in the Rockaway community, and have a better understanding of the impact that Addabbo’s mental health program has had on the Community. As a result, I can only assume that the decision to close Mental Health and CDT was far from unanimous on the part of the Board.


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