Counseling service latest Watertown health care provider to get a lifeline

Dec 16, 2013

The North Country Family Health Center, in Watertown, is still working to gain long-term financial stability after nearly closing in October. Now, another Watertown health care provider is getting a bailout to stay afloat. This time, it’s Family Counseling Service of Northern New York. 

The Family Counseling Service is the second Watertown health care nonprofit to get a financial bailout in recent months.
Credit Joanna Richards

Mental health care providers are in short supply in the Watertown area. That’s a problem for any community, but it’s especially bad for one hosting a heavily-deployed Army post.

“With Fort Drum, we have a lot of cases of families needing help,” says Bob Gorman, head of the local United Way. His agency just pitched in $15,000 to help keep Family Counseling open. He says the group’s 1,000 monthly appointments keep people out of more intensive treatment. And that relieves pressure on the overall safety net.  

But after years of providing $40,000 to $50,000 of annual support, United Way actually withheld money this year. It worried the nonprofit was on a financial cliff with no plan for long-term sustainability.

Gorman says it’s a difficult situation. “The need has been growing, and 10 years of war has hurt this community. And it’s hurt it in ways we weren’t projecting, we couldn’t expect. And we haven’t been able to fund the answer. We have to come together and provide everybody a way in which these services can be here and be sustainable.”

Samaritan Medical Center is helping Family Counseling rethink its business plan. Jefferson County started working with the organization earlier this year to make it eligible for state funds, and contributed $32,000.

Roger Ambrose, head of the county’s Community Services, says Family Counseling is important because it offers easily accessible, front-line care. It’s “one of those low-key organizations where it’s a little more difficult to walk into a mental health clinic, or into a hospital setting, than it is to walk into a family counseling center,” he says.

Bob Gorman, of United Way, says when his group started to see a long-term plan and more resources taking shape for Family Counseling, it decided to kick in its funds, too. He says the organization is far from stable yet, but it’s now taking steps in the right direction.