August 2016 Feature Story: Community Clinic of Jefferson County

Celebrating a milestone

Jennifer Earl is director of clinical operations at the Community Clinic of Jefferson County, an affiliate of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County. The clinic marks its fifth anniversary this year. Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.

Jennifer Earl is director of clinical operations at the Community Clinic of Jefferson County, an affiliate of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County. The clinic marks its fifth anniversary this year. Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.

Community Clinic of Jefferson County marks its fifth year

By Joleene Moody, NNY Business

When Mercy Behavioral Health and Wellness closed its doors as a mental health provider in June 2011, officials blamed poor Medicaid reimbursement as the culprit. The shuttered clinic left a gaping hole in the community for severely mentally ill patients. So when the Community Services Board in Watertown opened a bid for proposals for a county entity to acquire the operation, the Children’s Home of Jefferson County applied. They were humbly selected.
“Of all of the applicants, the Children’s Home of Jefferson County was chosen to open the new clinic,” executive director Karen Y. Richmond said. “We had no experience with this kind of clinic, so we brought with us a lot of community strength and involvement. We also brought the financial ability to withstand a long ride of potential losses to stabilize the clinic.”

In terms of financial stability, the Community Clinic of Jefferson County relies on multiple funding sources. From private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and the Department of Mental Health (when there is a deficit in funding), the clinic is able to run daily operations. Mrs. Richmond said there are moments it can be a struggle to sustain the operation, but with shared administrative teams and dedicated staff members, much of the struggle is alleviated.

Woznickl

Woznicki

Part of that team includes Dr. Robert M. Woznicki, psychiatrist and medical director. Dr. Woznicki was appointed in 2013 as the clinic’s first full-time psychiatrist.

“I think the clinic plays a fundamental role in the community in helping people who otherwise wouldn’t get good care,” he said. “We’re trying to expand our services and work with patients that need traditional psychiatric treatment, too.”

Now the clinic takes referral-only patients, all of whom are severely or persistently mentally ill. As the patient needs evolve, so does the clinic, working to provide resources and programs for mental health patients.

“We have a variety of groups, based on what the community needs,” said Jennifer Earl, director of clinical operations. “We typically have depression groups, which have a cognitive behavioral focus. We routinely hold anger management and stress management groups, too. We also have some trauma related groups and are working on developing a group for treating sex offenders.”

The clinic operates the Forensic Jail Program at the Jefferson County Correctional Facility, staffed with two counselors on site. From psychiatric counseling to rehabilitative services, the Forensic Jail Program offers inmates the assistance they need to help improve their health and well being both inside the facility and beyond release.

When the clinic wasn’t operating during those bumpy months in 2011, some needs of the patients went unmet. Ms. Earl said, “I started with the clinic very early on. At that time, there were several patients who had gone 6 months or so without their medication because their dose injections for antipsychotic medications were so high, that the ER and other community providers were uncomfortable giving them. These patients had no where to get their medications administered.”

Today, those patients needn’t worry about missing anything.

The clinic in Public Square in Watertown is fully staffed with 32 medical, non-medical, and support staff employees. That includes 2 physiatrists, 4 nurse practitioners, one physician’s assistant, and 12 therapists. Add to this highly trained staff one new child psychiatrist, and the Community Clinic of Jefferson County has what they consider a highly qualified, eager to serve, mental health staff.

“Our new child psychiatrist, Dr. Harrison LeVine, was trained at University of Michigan and Columbia, and was at Children’s Hospital Colorado, which is one of the best children’s hospitals in the country,” Dr. Woznicki said. “We’re very happy to have him on board.”

The Community Clinic of Jefferson County serves patients from age three to the golden years. The 5,100-square-foot Community Clinic is located in the Marcy Building at 167 Polk St., Suite 300.

For a full list of services and programs available, visit nnychildrenshome.com/pro grams/community-clinic.

Joleene Moody is a freelance writer, blogger and speaker who lives in Oswego County with her husband and daughter. Contact her at takeyourvoiceback.com.