By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Craig Amoth brings vision, experience and an exuberant personality to his new position as executive director for Behavioral Health Services North.
He replaces Harry Cook as BHSN’s top administrator; Cook retired from the position earlier this year.
Amoth comes most recently from New Hampshire, where he administered a state-wide human-services program that offered intensive in-home care for children.
“I was looking for a new opportunity where I could become part of an agency that brings value to the community,” he said, voicing praise of all that he has heard about BHSN and the services it provides.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of services offered by this agency,” he added, noting that BHSN has been in existence — in one form or another — for 179 years.
“This agency has had to be very creative in its ability to transition over the years.”
Amoth, who officially came on board April 1, did not begin his tenure with a specific list of goals he would like to accomplish.
“I really want to take the time to learn about the community (first), to understand where the gaps are and how we can be more supportive to the community,” he said.
“I need to understand the community before I can think about launching new initiatives.”
BHSN will be scheduling “meet and greet” events in upcoming weeks to introduce Amoth to regional agencies and organizations and to help him learn the names and faces of people involved in the local communities.
Amoth said he was especially excited about BHSN’s recent addition of primary-care services at the agency’s new facility on Route 22B near the Clinton County Fairgrounds.
He strongly believes that mental-health care and medical care should be closely connected.
“We don’t always integrate services well,” Amoth said of a historic separation of mental-health and medical services.
“If we can work together and pull both our resources together, that can only enhance the services we both provide.”
Statistically, people with mental illness have a shorter life expectancy, 11 years on average, Amoth noted.
Offering primary-care services at the same venue as mental-health services can help promote improved medical care for those patients, he added.
He also noted that providing medical care for those with mental illness can add a costly burden to health care because many often seek services from emergency rooms, which is typically much more expensive than services in primary-care settings.
Integrating mental-health and medical care can help reduce those costs to the health-care system, he said.
Prior to his tenure in New Hampshire, Amoth gained experience from positions he held in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming.
He worked in both Denver and Aurora, Co., sites of two well-publicized violent acts, the shootings at Columbine and the Century movie theater in Aurora.
That connection has strengthened his resolve to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and violence.
“People with mental illness are no more prone to violence than the general public,” he said. “We need to continue the dialogue addressing these misconceptions.”
He also recognizes the need to stress the importance of providing mental-health care for communities at a time when such care is underfunded.
He is also excited about current efforts nationwide to bring mental-health services into schools, where children can access support in a more private setting and without having to disrupt their daily activities.
Several area school districts employ mental-health counselors, and the region’s providers are looking to expand those services to more districts.
Services for adults — including an underserved senior population — are also high on Amoth’s priority list.
“The scope of our services should allow people to live as independently as they can,” he said. “In the past, these people were served in state hospitals.
“We know that is not an effective way of providing care.”
Supportive housing is a concept that brings mental-health services into a person’s home rather than focusing on community or group housing, adding that increased level of independence for clients, he noted.
The quality of life the North Country offers also helped influence Amoth’s decision to accept the executive director’s post.
“We have three kids still living at home and wanted access to quality schools,” he said.
“We also liked the opportunities a rural community provides along with access to a major metropolitan area (Montreal).”
Amoth and his family are outdoors enthusiasts and look forward to the hiking, skiing and fly-fishing opportunities available in northeastern New York.
He is especially excited about trying his luck with fly-fishing on the Ausable River.
Email Jeff Meyers:firstname.lastname@example.org