By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
It’s hard to believe that schools in our community pare opening in a few weeks. Our school administrators, school boards, school support staff and teachers are working overtime to create safe, responsible learning opportunities for all of our students.
Every school community has a unique profile based on economics, size and cultural diversity. As community members, we need to urge caution, respect and responsible and doable planning based on each of these unique profiles.
For more than 40 years I’ve been privileged to be actively engaged in both public and private education as a school administrator, junior high and senior high school teacher, and undergraduate and graduate school professor in the area of social science and clinical social work. Our schools are the heart and soul of our communities. This pandemic has impacted them in more ways than many of us fully realize.
If we listen to our students on every grade level, lack of socialization and human interaction has been devastating for so many. Many traditional social experiences from senior proms to graduations were canceled for the class of 2020. For the class of 2021, many fall sports have been canceled and/or postponed.
Our students continue to get a mixed message regarding some of the very basic healthcare provisions that are critical and that we all must practice if we want to protect ourselves and others and reduce the spread of this virus.
As we scurry to get ready for a new school year, there is another vital resource for students that might not receive the support it needs, especially with so many schools facing economic issues and cutbacks due to the pandemic. So many of our students at all levels are reporting increased stress, anxiety and depression. They admit they do not have the coping skills to manage.
Unfortunately, during these tough economic times, we too often cut services that support our students psychological and emotional needs. I feel compelled to give voice to this issue. As a veteran educator and licensed clinical social worker who runs a mental health clinic in our community, I can attest firsthand that mental health services are desperately needed both in our schools and in our community. Our outpatient clinic has a waiting list that is growing every day.
Our two community hospitals have been heroic at the way in which they have responded to this pandemic with compassion and competence. What very few people realize is that John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson is the only local hospital that provides comprehensive mental health services. St. Charles Hospital is the only hospital in our area that provides competent, comprehensive detox and residential rehabilitation services for drugs and alcohol.
The issue that no one wants to address, including the people who lead us, is that there is no money in mental health services and even less money for alcohol and drug rehabilitation services. I have heard too often the bureaucrats on the corporate side of healthcare say“there’s no money in these services. We lose money.” This kind of thinking coming from corporate healthcare systems is reprehensible and is a profound violation of their Hippocratic oath.
During these very difficult times, we need more than ever greater access to mental health beds and rehabilitation beds for substance abuse not less beds. Insurance companies should not sentence people to death; our young should not be denied treatment for being unable to make payment.
Let us stand up and support Mather and St. Charles and thank them for their courageous service and loudly advocate for their support. A growing number of young people are at risk if we remain silent. He or she could be your son or daughter!
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.