Westerly opens a new resource for mental health
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Westerly opens a new resource for mental health

Nov 14, 2023

Sun staff writer

WESTERLY — A new one-stop location for mental health services in Westerly opened its doors Tuesday as part of an initiative by a Town Council member who has firsthand experience with trauma.

The Westerly mental health resource center will operate within the 68 Pierce St. building that had served in years past as a police department substation.

Council member Mary Scialabba has worked behind the scenes with Police Chief Paul Gingerella to bring the old substation online for its new role. Both joined other town officials, health workers and residents to celebrate the center’s opening with a ribbon cutting and tours of the revitalized building.

It’s a mission that is personal for Scialabba, who six years ago as a pedestrian was hit by an automobile. Scialabba not only had to heal physically, but also recover from the mental scars of the incident. It was a difficult process.

“I needed help and I had no resources,” she said. Getting that help for others became part of her platform when Scialabba ran for council.

After she was elected, a three-hour meeting with Gingerella resulted in not only a promise to make some phone calls, but also get an appropriate space and a grant-funded professional to staff it.

“This is the first Westerly mental health resource center, emphasis on resource,” Scialabba said. “And we’re going to work with the whole community, hopefully grow this as big as it needs. Anybody and everybody is welcome here. We’re not going to lose you and not going to forget you.”

The site will be staffed by a grant-funded mental health professional through Gateway Healthcare, Rhode Island’s largest nonprofit behavioral health care provider. A clinician will be available at the center on weekdays during what are known as “second shift” hours, the evening and night when people are typically home from work or school.

“People who normally work during the day and don’t have resources will now be able to stop in and say, ‘I need some help,’” Amy McCarthy, clinical coordinator for the co-responder team at Gateway, said. The team will also do crisis intervention, she said.

Gateway’s clinicians have worked with local police to provide mental health services through the departments.

“When we say people can get help, it’s any kind of help, not just mental health,” Gingerella said.

He also was quick to note the new partnerships with the police, such as Ray of Hope, a nonprofit started by Westerly resident Danielle Oliver-Zimmerman after she lost her son to an overdose in November 2022. Its mission is to end the stigma and shame of addiction, she said.

“I’m here to provide support services for addiction and recovery, trying to close that gap,” Oliver-Zimmerman said.

In another first for Westerly, the center also is home to a special naloxone distribution box attached to its front door. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids — including heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid medications.

“I really want to thank everybody who helped get this installed. It’s a big deal,” she said.

Gingerella said the town’s public works department employees got the building ship-shape and gave it a new coat of paint for the reopening. The building is also home to the Greater North End Community Development group.

Westerly Town Manager Shawn Lacey called the new center a wonderful asset for the community.

“This is a great facility to house it in and have hours for people to come and get some of the services they need,” he said, adding that approximately 70% of calls to police are mental health related.

“It’s not just Westerly, it’s nationwide," he said. "They’re having clinicians come into the departments, work closely with them to respond out on calls with officers.”

State Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D.-Dist. 38) said the community has benefited from the presence of the police and Greater North End Community Development at 68 Pierce St., and will continue to flourish with the addition of the mental health services.

“So much good has happened,” Kennedy said. “Knowing there are going to be people here each day is a great thing.”

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Sun staff writer

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