The New York State budget that was approved last spring by the Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo included $175,000 for the creation of the North Fork Behavioral Health Initiative.
The funds were set aside following a similar initiative on the South Fork, which gave students in local school districts direct access to improved, round-the-clock treatment for critical mental health issues. The idea for the South Fork initiative came in the wake of a student’s suicide.
It is no exaggeration to say the South Fork initiative has saved lives, with students in crisis now able to receive a quick evaluation from a mental health professional. A look at the numbers on the South Fork shows success: During the 2014-15 school year, 12 students were hospitalized for mental health reasons. After the initiative was passed, that number dropped to seven and to five during the 2016-17 school year.
Last spring, Sen. Ken LaValle, working with assemblymen Anthony Palumbo and Fred Thiele, rolled out a similar initiative for North Fork schools. Their effort is an example of elected officials seeing a great need, reacting to meet it and working the levers of government and the leadership of both parties to get it funded, included in the state budget and signed into law.
This program provides local access to mental health professionals in the Riverhead, Mattituck-Cutchogue, New Suffolk, Southold, Greenport, Oysterponds and Shelter Island school districts. Participating in the program are the Family Service League, Eastern Long Island Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center, Stony Brook University Hospital and the towns of Riverhead and Southold. A strong supporter of the initiative, Southold Town is contributing $10,000 to the program.
For schools on both forks, this initiative is a game changer, making 24-hour service available to assist struggling students and their families. As David Gamberg, superintendent of both the Southold and Greenport school districts, said last spring, “The reality of it is, it doesn’t matter what age you are. When someone experiences such a level of crisis it doesn’t stop at 3 o’clock. We need to have the ability to make contacts after [school] hours and on weekends and we need to be more responsive.”
We agree, and that’s a key reason the Times Review Media Group endorses Mr. Palumbo, 48, for re-election to the state Assembly.
Mr. Palumbo’s opponent is Rona Smith of Greenport, 73, who chairs the Southold Town Housing Advisory Commission. She is a dedicated and longtime activist, who faults Mr. Palumbo for his opposition to a single-payer health care program. She speaks eloquently about health care — she lost her husband and son to different types of cancer about five years ago, just 12 days apart. Her son could not afford health insurance.
Southold Town is fortunate to have someone of Ms. Smith’s compassion, smarts and dedication serving on the housing commission. She deserves a larger place at the table. We hope she finds that place.
She is running on the Democratic Party line. Mr. Palumbo is on the Republican line, and is the beneficiary of a cross-endorsement deal party leaders worked out behind closed doors that also gave him the Conservative and Independence party lines.
Mr. Palumbo supported the legalization of medical marijuana but opposes allowing it for recreational use. In his interview with Times Review’s newspapers, he said he supports “common sense” gun laws and background checks and opposes arming teachers, a truly awful idea promoted by some in elected office.
He also supported the preservation of more than 800 acres at the former Shoreham nuclear plant site by including it in the Pine Barrens core preservation area.
Mr. Palumbo has earned another term in the Assembly.
Photo caption: Anthony Palumbo. (Credit: Tara Smith)