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Lewis officials nix idea of reimbursing for mental health transports

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials have decided against reimbursing any police agency for mental health transports to Watertown.

“This way, everybody gets treated the same,” legislative Mental Hygiene Committee Chairman Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, said during a special committee meeting Wednesday.

The session, attended by Lowville Police Chief Eric F. Fredenburg, Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli and Undersheriff James M. Monnat, was called to continue discussions on a nearly $1,000 bill from the village intended to cover the transport of area residents to Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, for mental health evaluations over the previous four months.

Chief Fredenburg at a committee meeting last month said he had been under the impression that police agencies, under state Mental Health Law, could seek reimbursement for such expenses.

However, Sarah J. Bullock, the county’s acting director of community services, said that pickup orders are handled here under a different section of Mental Health Law that does not include such a provision.

Lawmakers last month seemed open to contracting with the village for such services, even though there is no requirement, but Mr. Stanford said that opinion has shifted after further research was done.

The committee chairman said he had polled several police agencies in surrounding counties and found that none received any reimbursement for mental health transports.

“This is another hidden mandate,” he said.

However, Mr. Stanford said he doesn’t want to “inflate Mental Health’s budget” or set a precedent where one department receives funding while others do not.

Under an oral agreement between agencies, village police typically handle transport of village residents, while the Sheriff’s Department or state police tend to handle transport of non-village residents.

However, there is some overlap, depending on officer availability.

“If you think you’re doing more than your share, let us know,” Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, told Chief Fredenburg.

Following some discussion among police officials about residents possibly abusing the system by acting out to get a free ride to Watertown, Mrs. Bullock suggested that law enforcement officials and representatives at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center have a discussion on the issue.

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