ALLEGANY — If a teenager in Allegany, or anywhere else in Cattaraugus County, needs acute hospitalized care for suicide prevention, he or she has to be sent outside of the area and could end up in an adult facility.
It is primarily for this reason Allegany Mayor Greg Pearl organized an informal committee of leaders from the community and school district Wednesday to discuss what can be done at the local level to support youngsters at risk. The group met at the Village of Allegany Municipal Building.
Pearl said he and other Allegany leaders have a growing concern for the lack of local care available to children in the community who are at risk for committing suicide and in need of inpatient hospital care.
“The closest (facility for youngsters) is in Chautauqua County, but they have been turning (local children) away because they’re full,” Pearl claimed. “So they’ve been shipping them to (facilities) in Rochester or West Seneca, which is slated to be closed. They want to combine (children) with adults in a facility in Buffalo.”
Others in attendance included Leonard Liguori, director of Directions in Independent Living in Olean, who said his agency has contacted the state legislature for help in the matter, but has been told that funding isn’t available.
Pearl said in addition to gathering leaders in Allegany, he would also like to get those from the county involved and “get a bigger voice going into the state.”
Pearl also noted his concern with the attention currently placed on the opioid crisis, while the crisis with suicides, and suicide attempts by youngsters, is being left by the wayside.
“This is basically (considered) the school’s problem, but it isn’t,” he said of teenage suicide. “It’s the community’s problem.”
Dr. Karen Geelan, superintendent of Allegany-Limestone Central School District, said she agreed with Pearl’s comment that the community needed to work together to have a stronger voice with the state.
“It sounds like the same frustration coming from municipalities, school districts and agencies,” Geelan said. “I think as citizens of New York state it is incumbent on all of us to make sure we have the resources we need.”
Pearl told the committee one of the first steps to raise funds and awareness for the issue is the sale of aqua and purple Suicide Prevention bracelets and magnetic stickers. The items can be purchased at the village office or at a kickball game between the Allegany Police Department and Allegany Fire Department at 6 p.m. Aug. 24 at t Allegany Fireman’s Park.
“We also have a flag that is being made up … that will be in Rally in the Valley,” Pearl added.
Kelly Granger, village board member, said she admires Pearl’s passion for helping youngsters in the community.
“Young people are our future and we need to make sure we have a strong and healthy youth,” Granger said. “That’s been (Pearl’s) focus since he took office.”
Amy Lafler, suicide prevention coalition coordinator for Cattaraugus County, praised the group for contacting her and the coalition for help.
“You’re the first community that has actually reached out to us,” Lafler said. “I really want to commend you guys for doing this.”
Pearl said the next step for the committee is to meet with town leaders in the near future. He said the committee also plans to become more involved with the youth through the Allegany Parks and Recreation Department directed by Abbie Kalinowski.
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)