Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. at a press conference Feb. 24, announcing the grand opening of a mental health clinic on East Main Street. Photo: Alek Lewis

RISE Life Services opened a new outpatient mental health services clinic at their facility on East Main Street in Riverhead today that officials say can both help to reduce crime and mental health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Elevations Clinic Treatment Program will provide medical services, including medication prescriptions and management, antipsychotic injectables, smoking cessation treatment and mental health monitoring, and therapeutic services, including psychotherapy, psychoeducation, and screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment — an early intervention treatment for those with and at risk of developing substance use disorders.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said during a grand opening ceremony this morning that the increased availability of the services the clinic provides can lead to a reduction in crime and repeat offenders, who often have mental health problems. 

“We have a 12% recidivism rate within our system. And I think that addressing mental health, substance abuse and working with our community service partners will help us address the issues that we’re confronted with,” Toulon said.

Toulon said the Sheriff’s office can now divert individuals that are diagnosed with mental health issues inside correctional facilities to RISE’s services to receive proper treatment when they are released. He said the facility will also help people who are out on bail.

“With bail reform, when someone has mental health issues and they commit a crime, they’re released on their own recognizance, they returned back to the community, where do they go to for help?” Toulon said. “I will call on our New York State legislature to fund resources like this that’s going to help not only keep our communities safe, but help these individuals that have mental health issues.”

Tracy Anderson, RISE Life Services’ director of clinical and behavioral services, said the need for services the clinic provides are on the rise. Rates of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, have been exacerbated since “many people are experiencing fear and worry regarding our current societal climate and uncertain futures, due to and such as the pandemic and increased and unmanaged crime and violence,” Anderson said.

“We are so excited to finally be at this stage and grateful that we are now able to provide mental health services that are so desperately needed in our community. The net need for mental health services on Long Island has been steadily increasing for quite some time now,” Anderson said.

Toulon expressed a similar sentiment during his remarks. “I think more now than ever, it’s time to remove the stigma associated with people talking about mental health and focusing on them getting the help that they need and they truly deserve. Because when there are barriers to getting help, it affects not only the devastation of families, but also our communities,” he said.

RISE Life Services Executive Director Charles Evdos said the idea for the clinic came about about a year ago, when he was discussing the county’s mental health needs with Toulon. “Our goal is to do the best we can to help the community,” he said.

Evdos said RISE has just purchased a location in Huntington where they can provide services to western Suffolk.

“This is such an important collaboration of different services. And there’s no one more professional than our Sheriff Toulon. Your involvement speaks volumes to the whole community. So that’s really appreciated,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. 

“And thank you so much for the collaboration,” Krupski said to Evdos. “You are serving a great need here.”

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Services Executive Director Charles Evdos cut a ceremonial ribbon at the grand opening of a new mental health clinic on East Main Street Feb. 24. Photo: Alek Lewis

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and members of the town board attended a separate ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon, where she presented Evdos with a certificate of appreciation “for all your effort and supporting the disabled community.”

Aguiar said the services are necessary for the town. The town board supported RISE by allocating to the organization $25,000 in American Rescue Plan relief funds. She dismissed concerns that the clinic might lead to increased calls to Riverhead police.

“I think that is people’s fear,” she said. “It’s good that people who may have some types of disability get the care that they need… If people don’t have care and they need it then you might see an increase of maybe some quality of life crimes or some incidents.”

Anderson said the clinic is open from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Services will expand in the future to include Saturdays and additional hours in the evening, Anderson said. She said the clinic will be on call 24/7 and serves both adults and children ages 3 and above. Services are available in over 50 languages and dialects, Anderson said.

RISE Life Services, is a nonprofit organization originally founded in 1980 as Aid to the Developmentally Disabled, provides services for people with physical and developmental disabilities and operates a food pantry program. 

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]