Orleans County Mental Health director honored for efforts to expand services

Photo by Tom Rivers: Mark O’Brien has been director of mental health and community services at Orleans County Department of Mental Health the past four years.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 May 2017 at 12:24 pm

ALBION – The director of the Orleans County Department of Mental Health was honored last week for his efforts to work with other agencies and expand mental health services in Orleans County.

Mark O’Brien, the county’s Mental Health director since April 2013, received the Constance Miller Award from the Mental Health Association of Genesee & Orleans. The award is named in honor of the founder of the MHA in 1993.

“We want to recognize people working promote mental wellness in the community,” said Scott Wilson, vice president of the MHA board of directors.

Wilson is also the Orleans County Jail superintendent. He has seen O’Brien work with many local agencies in the community to expand mental health services, including at the jail.

The Mental Health Department has two clinicians working at the jail, which has reduced psychotropic medication and suicide attempts, Wilson said.

O’Brien also has worked with all five Orleans County school districts to establish satellite clinics in the schools where county mental health therapists work with students.

He also is pursuing partnerships with the Genesee-Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Orleans Community Health and Oak Orchard Health to have mental health staff at their sites.

O’Brien said the Mental Health Department could expand to 15 satellite locations if all the partnerships move forward.

With the school districts, O’Brien said he heard of two other counties that had success with therapists in schools. He presented the option to local school superintendents, and all five have supported the service, including summer hours when school is out of session. O’Brien said having mental health staff in schools reduces the transportation barrier and is less disruptive to a student’s school day because they only have to walk down the hall for an appointment, rather than travelling to Albion for an appointment at the Mental Health Department.

He also supports having mental health staff at GCASA, and the healthcare facilities.

“It’s making mental health services more accessible to the community and reducing the stigma because they are not going to a classified mental health building,” he said.

He also has worked to make county mental health building more accessible to the public by having open access where people don’t need an appointment to be served during regular business hours.

O’Brien also has been influential with the Mental Health Association, helping the agencies in Orleans and Genesee to merge, and the newly merged group to open an office in Albion at the Arnold Gregory Office Complex, 243 South Main St.

“He’s done a lot for the MHA,” said Scott Wilson, the board vice president.

O’Brien said the MHA is a “great partner” for the Mental Health Department. His agency provides treatment, while the MHA provides important peer support and a drop-in center.

He thanked the County Legislature for supporting the efforts for the agencies to work together and expand mental health services for the community.

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