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Ellis Medicine's Schenectady 'Living Room' eases mental health crises

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Clinic that tries not to look like a clinic is joint effort of Ellis Medicine, Rehabilitation Support Services


SCHENECTADY — The Living Room lives up to its name, offering a comfortable setting for mental health patients who need a place to calm their stress and anxiety.

The setting was designed to provide an alternative to emergency room care for those who need help but aren’t facing a crisis that would require them to be hospitalized.

The State Street facility is a collaboration between Rehabilitation Support Services and Ellis Medicine. Since opening on Oct. 1, its monthly average has been 38 patients — whom it calls guests — said Jen DeCrescente, program director for RSS.

“This is a crisis-diversion program, keeping people out of the emergency room in a crisis,” she said last week, while leading a tour of The Living Room.

“We see a lot of depression, anxiety,” DeCrescente said. “The emergency room can be a very stressful and overwhelming place, especially when you may be waiting for a long time. It’s very noisy, crowded, which isn’t conducive to someone experiencing a mental health crisis — it may exacerbate their symptoms. So we wanted to create a really comfortable, relaxing, homelike environment as an alternative.”

Soft lighting and subdued colors, beautiful images on the walls and low background music define the entry area, which, with its plush couches, does resemble a living room. 

Beyond the entry area are staff offices, a smaller, more enclosed version of the entry area called the den and a meditation room with dimmable lights and no furniture. 

The Ellis Medicine Mental Health Clinic is right across the hallway, at 1023 State St., and sees about 1,400 patients a year. Its clinical manager, Mary May, said The Living Room complements the clinic and serves the larger goal of keeping patients out of the emergency department, which is a more expensive venue for treatment and offers a level of care not not needed by many patients. 

Clinicians at Ellis Mental Health have been taking their patients across to The Living Room for tours, May said, and advising them to go there if they are experiencing stress, particularly after the clinic closes for the day — The Living Room is open from noon to 8 p.m. weekdays.

Through a grant from the Alliance For Better Health, visits to The Living Room are free for Schenectady County residents during its first year of operation. The majority of guests so far have been residents of the city, and most of the rest have been residents of its suburbs.


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