/ April 13, 2021

Behavioral Health Assessment and Support for Youth in Detention: Taking on any challenge

As a clinical supervisor at the Rikers Island’s infirmary, Dr. Amber Testa’s main responsibility is primarily to oversee the staff of clinicians to provide some direct patient care. But when COVID-19 came to Rikers, that all changed. Dr. Testa found herself on the frontlines of an unprecedented crisis.

The infirmary experienced a surge of patients needing care and attention, including patients with serious mental illness who were struggling with high levels of fear and anxiety as they waited for COVID-19 test results or were isolating after possible exposure.

Through all of this stress and uncertainty, patients and staff looked to Dr. Testa as a constant source of reassurance. She took on all challenges that came her way, whether it was in her job description or not.

“I have an image of Dr. Testa in full PPE going from one housing area to another, meeting with patients and checking in with them constantly,” said Dr. Virginia Barber-Rioja, Co-Chief of Mental Health for NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services. “She was doing direct care, more than what was expected of her, and she was always willing to help. For a couple of days, she couldn’t come to work because she was sick, but even then, she was still calling the jail to check in with her staff and patients.”

From Dr. Testa:
“Psychology has been my passion for 15 years and shifting to work in a correctional setting with some of New York’s most underserved populations was a life-changing moment for me. It’s a continuous learning process and while it can be challenging, I show up for work for our patients, many of whom may feel abandoned by society or suffer alone in silence. I come to work for my incredible multidisciplinary team — mental health, medical, nursing, all the Correctional Health Services support services, our partners at the Department of Correction — who are all brave, dedicated and supportive individuals. I witness their daily heroism and come in to fight alongside them to protect and help our patients as best as we can.”

Related community mental health program: Behavioral Health Assessment and Support for Youth in Detention
Correctional Health Services (CHS) offers behavioral health screening, substance use engagement, and therapeutic creative arts programming for all young adults incarcerated in City jails and detention facilities. Since launching in 2016, this program has screened over 1,400 youth and young adults for behavioral health needs and provided over 5,500 creative arts therapy sessions in City jails and detention facilities. Learn more about the program and its impact here.