Orleans Mental Health director leaving to lead Erie County department

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 April 2020 at 11:04 am

O’Brien praised for expanding mental health services in community

Photo by Tom Rivers: Mark O’Brien has led the Orleans County Mental Health Department the past seven years. During his tenure the department expanded to have staff working out of 15 sites in the community, including schools, healthcare facilities and the county jail.

ALBION – The Orleans County Mental Health Director is leaving the county to take the job as Erie County Commissioner of Mental Health.

Mark O’Brien has been the Orleans County director for seven years. He has worked for the county for a decade.

O’Brien, a Grand Island resident, told county legislators it was a “very difficult decision” to leave Orleans. He praised the legislators for supporting initiatives to expand mental health services in the county.

He was presented a “Special Recognition Award” on Wednesday by County Legislators.

“Your dedication and expertise has benefited our county tremendously,” the award states. “We appreciate your support and commitment to the residents of our county, which will forever be widespread, long lasting and extremely appreciated. The Orleans County Legislature does hereby wish you well as you enjoy your newest endeavor as the Erie County Commissioner of Mental Health.”

O’Brien built many partnerships in the community to expand mental health services, including satellite mental health offices in all five school districts in the county. Those offices allow students to receive mental health services without having to travel to county clinic in Albion. Transportation was a barrier for many families to access services.

Counselors help students who have anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

“It makes it more accessible for the kids,” O’Brien told the Orleans Hub in a previous article. “The superintendents have been super cooperative to work with.”

O’Brien also led the department in bringing mental health services to the county jail. About 80 percent of the inmates in the Orleans County Jail have mental health disorders. Providing them treatment and appropriate medication can help reduce recidivism.

The Mental Health Department also has worked with local law enforcement agencies to provide training for responding to people in a mental health crisis.

He also developed 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.

He was honored with the Constance Miller Award from the Mental Health Association of Genesee & Orleans in 2017. 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,” Scott Wilson, vice president of the MHA board of directors, said then.

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 said he appreciated the response from partners in the county, welcoming mental health staff.

“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 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’s last day with the county is May 7. The County Legislature has appointed Danielle Figura, the current clinic coordinator for Mental Health, to serve as interim director for the department beginning on May 8.

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