County Legislators approve additional funding for counseling services at local schools

(Photo via Pexels).

Cortland County Legislators unanimously approved $100,000 in supplementary funding on Thursday that would go toward direct mental health services provided by Family Counseling Services (FCS) at county schools. The measure was voted down by the Finance and Administration committee earlier this month.

Lisa Hoeschele, CEO of Family and Children's Counseling Services, advocated for the additional funding at Thursday’s legislature meeting. She highlighted the significant need for direct mental health support among Cortland County’s youth. FCS, she said, has been providing direct services to children all across the county at their school since 2010.

“School counselors and psychiatrists can only focus on services that pertain to school achievement,” Hoeschele said. “They cannot provide general mental health counseling. The pandemic exacerbated service needs with a significant increase in domestic violence, isolation, and trauma.”

The support FCS provides focuses on helping students and their families, Hoeschele said, allowing families to access services in their home communities, rather than plan trips to clinics that are further away.

“We focus on resilience in the hopes to avoid future costs to our community,” she said. “We provide mental health counseling as we can find staff in every school building in the county.”

The need for supplementary funding, Hoeschele said, is related to “consistently low rates in reimbursements for these services.”

“And also the increasingly high number of families who have high deductible plans it is becoming more difficult to sustain the program,” she added.

Hoeschele noted the organization is hoping for a more favorable financial forecast next year. Just this year, however, FCS saw a 45 percent increase in staffing costs, 37 percent in healthcare costs, and only a 14 percent increase in FCS’ billable rates.

“That is a recipe for unsustainability,” she said.

At previous meetings, the legislature staff said the state and other counties don’t typically provide funds to help nonprofits with similar programs.

“Many counties, including most of our neighboring counties, provide direct support for mental health services through private nonprofit providers such as ours,” Hoeschele said. “I have always firmly believed that if you provide the service, the funding will follow. That’s no longer the case.”

County coroner Denise Bushnell backed Hoeschel’s statements.

“We are at 15 deaths for just October. Out of 15 deaths we had 10 in one week and two of them are suicides. We now have the same number of deaths by suicide as we have deaths by overdose,” Bushnell said. 

She labeled the community’s issues with mental health a “major problem.”

Legislator Sandra Price (D-LD-14) said she would like to see a report from FCS on these services.

“I am going to keep a very close track on this,” she said. “I want us to hit the ground running and get in schools as soon as we can.”

Services, Hoeschele said, are provided based on needs at the different school districts. She explained that if a school is showing a need for services, FCS will focus their resources on that specific district.

“The problem has been being able to find and pay staff in our communities,” she said.