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U.S. Rep. John Katko

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen

A task force established by U.S. Rep. John Katko during his first term in Congress has released a report outlining ways to address the need for more youth mental health services in central New York.

Katko, R-Camillus, worked with Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, a Democrat, to lead the task force, which launched in 2015. 

The key recommendations made by the task force include streamlining data collection on mental illness. The report noted that current statistics available vary and that impacts how mental health professionals and researchers can best serve those who need treatment.

The panel also recommending improving administration of mental health services, increasing access to certain services, such as telepsychiatry and inpatient psychiatric care, and developing a strategy to improve the early diagnosis and treatment of behavioral and mental health issues. 

"This report follows two years of intensive dialogue, data collection and study from community advocates, health care providers and hospitals on the need to strengthen access to pediatric mental health care in our community," Katko said. 

Magnarelli added, "I commend the task force in highlighting barriers to appropriate and essential needs for our youth with mental illness. However, to service the needs of patients, youth mental health services must be expanded to include more community-based resources." 

The task force's report fulfills an early pledge by Katko to focus on youth mental health issues as central New York's congressional representative. He made it a high priority while campaigning for the 24th Congressional District seat in 2014. 

Early in his first term, Katko said he wanted to establish a pediatric mental health facility in central New York. In April 2015, he and Magnarelli launched the mental health task force

The task force consisted of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers. Representatives from the Syracuse chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness also participated. 

NAMI Syracuse President Karen Winters Schwartz, one of the task force members, lauded the work of the panel.

"It was refreshing to collaborate with individuals who could put their political differences aside and get something done!" Winters Schwartz said. "As president of NAMI Syracuse, I look forward to continuing working with Congressman Katko and Assemblyman Magnarelli to improve mental health care services and the lives of individuals and their families who struggle with brain disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression." 

The next steps for the task force were outlined in the conclusion of the report. Not only will the group support the implementation of their recommendations, but they will advocate for federal and state funding to support youth mental health services.

The group also committed to supporting SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, which is adding an acute children and adolescent mental health unit. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.