Rep. Tonko Kicks Off Weeklong Spotlight On Mental Health In Albany

May 25, 2018

New York Congressman Paul Tonko visited Albany Friday morning to kick off a weeklong spotlight on mental health.

Trauma, violence, despair, hopelessness...Dr. Robert "Bob" Paeglow has seen it all. He took Congressman Tonko on a tour of Koinonia Family Practice on Clinton Avenue — the facility he founded and directs.

Paeglow grew up in Albany, watching his own mother suffer from mental illness. She eventually was institutionalized. He returned to the neighborhood 17 years ago.   "I came back here specifically with a view to do what I could to make life better for people. And certainly I'm a doctor, and my primary vocation is medicine, but trying to make life better for people in the West Hill, Arbor Hill neighborhoods, which are the poorest neighborhoods in the city."

On a shoestring budget, Paeglow and his associates provide patients suffering from anxiety, depression and similar mental health problems that result from substance abuse. Paeglow worked for many years without drawing a salary.   "I often tell the staff, I say, 'we've done so much with so little for so long, we're now qualified to do everything with nothing.' You know, and that's the way it feels around here sometimes. Montefiore project has been a godsend for us because they help us do it better."

Koinonia is a participant in the Montefiore Behavior Health Integration Framework Evaluation project.  Paeglow notes the one-stop facility can more accurately treat and track patients in an area of the city where residents live under constant stress.    "We had a shooting out here, a stabbing this past weekend. We had a murder over here on the corner, while a couple months before that there was a day we were up in our lunchroom, bang bang bang, we hear seven shots, we go out and there's a person staggering down the street and dying. So, it’s a tremendously traumatized community."

Paeglow blames the opioid epidemic for sending the demand for mental health treatment over the top.  Tonko says the need is greater than ever to ensure patients in need of mental health services don't fall through the cracks.   "And when people have a moment of clarity with the illness of addiction they need services on demand. You liken it to perhaps a diabetic. If you need insulin at that moment, it's gotta be there or else you're not going to be effectively treated."

Tonko has a treatment bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to aid the substance disorder community.   "That's the epicenter of reform. Getting treatment to a community that is vastly underserved. 20 percent are getting served, 80 percent are not. We must , we can, do better."