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SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, joined by Commissioner of Public Safety Christian Mathiesen, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, and several community members on the steps of City Hall Tuesday June 2, expressed concern regarding the appointment of the Saratoga County Mental Health Director Michael Prezioso, Ph.D. 

The concern centered on a New York State Office of Mental Health January 28, 2008 finding of sexual harassment by Prezioso to a member of his staff from early 2006 to late spring of 2007 while they were both employed at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany.  Additional concerns about current working conditions at the Saratoga County Mental Health facility located at 135 South Broadway in Saratoga Springs under the new director have been brought to the City’s attention by county staff and concerned citizens.

“We hope that the County will take the appropriate steps necessary to ensure the protection of our citizens and that all charges are properly addressed to ensure top notch and reputable community service to all,” said Yepsen. “Sexual harassment is never okay. This should have been disclosed.”

Mathiesen agreed. “I have three daughters, four sisters, and staff who should be able to work every day and not be harassed,” he said. “Mental health needs are not being met, and the last I looked, this facility is in our city and serves our city residents. All I’m saying is there should be a thorough investigation.”

Madigan said, “Dr. Prezioso has denied allegations of prior misconduct; however, serious concerns have been raised about the work environment at the Saratoga County Mental Health Center since his appointment. Doctors and clinicians have resigned, claiming that the facility is falling apart and that they find working with Prezioso untenable and toxic. There are suggestions that more resignations with follow.” 

Prezioso referred requests for comment to Saratoga County Administrator Spencer P. Hellwig, who said in a prepared statement, “For the record, the County Director of Personnel has personally met with every staff member who has asked or expressed an interest in speaking with her to voice their concerns with the new Mental Health Director.  Each employee was provided with a detailed explanation of the process for initiating and following through with a claim where they believe their rights have been violated… Relative to the hiring of Dr. Prezioso the Personnel Department supported his appointment after multiple interviews and a background check was performed which included verification of his licenses, education and prior employment.” 

Here is Hellwig's full statement: 

There has been an ongoing undercurrent of opinions being voiced by members of the public who appear to be taking a position based on limited information about what is being done or not being done to manage personnel activities and the delivery of services in the Saratoga County Mental Health Department. 

For the record, the County Director of Personnel has personally met with every staff member who has asked or expressed an interest in speaking with her to voice their concerns with the new Mental Health Director.  Each employee was provided with a detailed explanation of the process for initiating and following through with a claim where they believe their rights have been violated.   Many employees complained that the facility needs to be provided with more psychiatrists.  Grievances were filed by employees to the CSEA union in regards to the County actions to stop flexible time and the amount of payment associated with on-call pay.  These issues have been settled by the CSEA and the County.

The demand for Psychiatrists is likely to grow and is a problem State wide, as fewer medical school graduates opt for careers in Psychiatry and many currently practicing are at or near retirement age. The American Psychiatric Association has concluded that the demand for psychiatrist is strong and the need for more psychiatrists will continue to grow.   

The Saratoga County Department of Mental Health actively collaborates with Saratoga Hospital's office of Human Resources to recruit Psychiatrists for the County Mental Health Center. Center Psychiatrists are Hospital employees, deployed per the County's contract with the Hospital. Candidates have recently toured the Mental Health Center as part of the recruitment process and others are scheduled.  The Hospital is working cooperatively with the County and collectively we are in the process of placing Psychiatrists. 

In addition, Saratoga County is working actively to establish a Nurse Practitioner-Psychiatry position at the Mental Health Center. Nurse Practitioners may diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders, prescribe medication as indicated, and engage in triage and crisis intervention services. The addition of a Nurse Practitioner is specifically designed to enhance access to services.

We have seen random letters being written by individuals outside the department and are aware that Dr. Prezioso’s enforcement of departmental policies has irked some tenured staff members, but County Directors do not adopt County policies or approve the collective bargaining agreements that they are expected to follow and enforce. 

The County has and will continue to work with administration and the employees to resolve any personnel issues that are enforceable, but we cannot and will not be a part to any course of action that violates any employee rights to operate in a fashion that serves the interests of the mental health clients or the general public at large. 

Relative to the hiring of Dr. Prezioso the Personnel Department supported his appointment after multiple interviews and a background check was performed which included verification of his licenses, education and prior employment.

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