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Bastien will step down as St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center chief

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Just as he arrived 27 years ago, Samuel A. Bastien will be leaving Ogdensburg by chance.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center executive director will retire from state service this summer to take a job as CEO of Four Winds Hospital, Saratoga, a private psychiatric hospital.

“The offer came out of the blue,” he said. “I got a call one day, and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Mr. Bastien, 58, has served as the state-run psychiatric center’s director since 2006. Previous to that he served as the center’s chief of services for adults, children and youth.

His first position with the hospital was as a board psychologist in secure care, specializing in violent behaviors. It was a job that also came out of the blue while he was a doctoral student at the University of Vermont.

“A friend of mine who was a couple years ahead of me in grad school came here with her husband, who was on the faculty at Clarkson University,” he said. “One day she called me at UVM where I was finishing my doctorate and said they (the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center) were looking for a psychologist within an expertise in violence, so I decided to apply.”

He said he had planned to move closer to his family in Connecticut, and initially planned to stay in Ogdensburg for two years.

“And the rest is history. It’s been a great place to raise a family. Both my kids have grown up here. I’ve enjoyed it,” Mr. Bastien said.

He said he plans to remain in his post until mid to late July and hopes to assist with the leadership transition.

His decision to leave was not easy, he said.

“It’s not just that it’s been my home; it’s been a great place to work, and the people here are really special in what they do for the patients,” he said. “I’ve known a lot of people we provide services to, and I’ve become involved in the community. All of those things add up.”

He also said his retirement is unrelated to whatever changes the state may have in store for its delivery of mental health services.

“I think it was a surprise to people that I’m leaving. It was a surprise to me,” he said.

The state Office of Mental Health has been mulling a plan to downsize inpatient treatment and place greater emphasis on community-based care for the mentally ill. State lawmakers and community officials fear the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center could close as part of those plans.

“There will be changes, but I don’t have any foreknowledge of what those changes might be,” Mr. Bastien said. “The hospital has been here 123 years, and I only see that continuing into the future. Its role will probably change as the nature of mental health care changes and the public need for mental health services changes, but I think it will always be here.”

State Office of Mental Health spokesman Benjamin Rosen said there is currently no list of proposed psychiatric center closures.

He also said speculation on whether any hospitals might close is premature in advance of OMH’s listening tour, in which public input is being sought around the state on the future of state-run mental health services.

A listening-tour session will be held at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s Unity Center May 15 from 10 a.m. to noon. Participants are asked to register on the OMH website, www.omh.ny.gov/omhweb/excellence/registration.html, and indicate whether they wish to speak at the event.

Mr. Rosen said no candidate has been chosen to serve as acting director once Mr. Bastien leaves. OMH will not look for a permanent replacement until the position is vacant, he said. He said OMH will appoint a search committee that will work to fill the position as quickly as possible once it is vacant.

The psychiatric center employs 520 people and had a patient census as of Monday of 185.

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