Interdisciplinary Research Partnership at UAlbany Aids Albany County Mental Health Program

Carmen Morano, Associate Dean for Research in the School of Social Welfare, speaking at the podium during the press conference announcing the program.
Carmen Morano, Associate Dean for Research in the School of Social Welfare, spoke at the press conference announcing the program.

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 17, 2021) – A new pilot program launched last week to meet the needs of those experiencing mental health crises in the Hilltowns of Albany County is aided by researchers in the School of Public Health (SPH) and the School of Social Welfare (SSW).

The Albany County Crisis Officials Responding and Diverting (ACCORD) program teams up social workers and paramedics to provide assistance in emergencies where a law enforcement presence is not necessary, according to a press release by Albany County.

“Mental health crises deserve mental health responses,” noted county mental health director Stephen Giordano at a press conference announcing the initiative. Though the primary goal is to ensure individuals get the appropriate assistance they need, an additional benefit is that it frees up law enforcement to focus on public safety work.

The program was created in December 2020 with an initial investment of $170,000 to fund two additional social worker positions in the county Department of Mental Health, and another $30,000 is being invested for a partnership between the County and UAlbany. Once the program has several months under its belt, faculty and graduate students from both SPH and SSW will conduct an analysis to determine the success of the program and make recommendations for improvement, with the end goal of scaling the program county-wide.

“Collecting and analyzing data to ensure new programs are delivering for those they are designed to help is central to smart policymaking," said researchers Tomoko Udo and Carmen Morano, of SPH and SSW respectively. "UAlbany's School of Public Health and School of Social Welfare are proud to partner with Albany County to gather objective evidence for ACCORD's impact in reducing adverse police encounters among those in crisis and to clearly document how the program works to help other communities more easily follow in Albany County's footsteps."

The researchers are also applying for a grant to create training manuals and other toolkits, so other communities can more easily mimic what Albany County is doing without having to reinvent the wheel.

The ACCORD program consists of two response teams who have been trained to handle situations involving mental health and nonviolent emergency cases where law enforcement is not essential – though law enforcement officers will remain in the area of the call should their presence become necessary. And as Giordano noted in his remarks, the program supplements the county’s already-existing 24/7 Mobile Crisis Team.

The teams will work on a rotating shift and will be dispatched from the Sheriff’s Office, with the first shift rolling out last Friday.

“This multi-faceted program is a common sense upgrade of the way that nonviolent calls for emergency assistance are handled in Albany County,” said Albany County Legislature Chairman Andrew Joyce. “When we conceptualized this program last fall we wanted to ensure that people got the proper help they needed and that our police force was freed up to focus on upholding the law. Now more than ever, our deputies should be preventing and responding to crime.”

The Legislature voted this week to fund UAlbany’s role in the project.

“Mental health is an essential aspect of overall health and this partnership between our Department of Mental Health, the County Legislature and the Albany County Sheriff shows we are willing to try new concepts and models to make the services we provide more efficient and accessible to the constituents we serve,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy in the release.