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Psychiatric center decision expected later this week

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The state Office of Mental Health has again put off the release of a plan detailing changes to its mental health care delivery system and what role the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will play in that plan.

OMH had announced previously it would release its plan Monday. Spokesman Benjamin Rosen said Monday afternoon that the plan would be released sometime this week, but he could not specify when. He said he could not comment on the reason for the delay.

The plan, which will outline a shift toward more community-based mental health care by decreasing the number of inpatient psychiatric beds, was first expected to be released in May. OMH officials in May extended the release date to Monday in order to review hundreds of public comments gathered during meetings on the proposal held in Ogdensburg and elsewhere in the state.

City and county officials have feared that the state’s plan will recommend the Ogdensburg facility be closed. Four unnamed psychiatric centers were being targeted for closure during state budget talks, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, has said.

The delay in releasing OMH’s plan has allowed a task force formed to prevent the psychiatric center’s closure to build more support for its cause. City Manager and St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force member John M. Pinkerton said Monday that the group last week sent dozens more resolutions and letters of support to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asking to preserve or expand the psychiatric center’s service offerings. Those indications of support were in addition to others submitted in May.

The task force received five more letters and resolutions of support Monday, he said, from the village of Hammond, the village of Deferiet, city of Watertown, the town of Fowler and Joseph Denny, a former Ogdensburg mayor who lives in Greensville, S.C.

“We just sent a revised booklet to the governor last week, and it’s already out of date,” Mr. Pinkerton said. “I like that we’re getting support from the outreaches of the psychiatric center catchment area.”

The psychiatric center serves a 10,000-square-mile region and is the only center located north of the Thruway. Mr. Pinkerton said that fact, in addition to the fact that every other state-run psychiatric center is within a 40-minute drive of another, are points the task force is continuing to reinforce with state officials. Patients would have to travel long distances for care if the center were closed.

“A glaring fact is that there are 23 below the Thruway and one above it,” he said.

Mr. Pinkerton said he expects more support to trickle in, and those letters and resolutions will be forwarded to OMH and Gov. Cuomo to help bolster the effort to preserve the center.

In the meantime, he said, the task force will have to wait to see what the future holds.

“That’s all we can do,” he said.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center employs 520 people. Task force members have urged OMH to consider designating it a regional center of excellence. As part of the office’s plan, regional centers of excellence will be formed that will partner with hospitals and community agencies to provide mental health care and support, and colleges and universities to advance psychiatric research.

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