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Task force to state: Amend psych center plan

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OGDENSBURG — The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force is not giving up the fight to have the psychiatric center designated as a regional center of excellence.

In a statement issued Thursday, task force members urged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and acting state Office of Mental Health Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock to amend the OMH regional centers of excellence plan to include the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center as a “northern center of excellence, and in doing so preserve three inpatient adult wards as well as three inpatient children and youth service wards at the center.”

OMH on Wednesday issued a plan that strips the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center of inpatient services for adults and children, sending those services to facilities in Syracuse and Utica, respectively. Under the plan, inpatient services will be moved out of the center starting next year, and the transition will be complete by 2016.

The plan proposes expanding community-based mental health services and making Ogdensburg a community service hub, but it remains to be seen what services will be offered. It’s also unclear how many of the center’s 520 employees will remain in Ogdensburg.

The following is the task force’s full statement:

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force is surprised and disappointed by the recommendations made in the plan provided yesterday by acting Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock to close the adult and children/youth inpatient facilities at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. This region, with its long history providing quality services for the mentally ill, had the most to lose in this process, and though it was the most vocal and consistent in its support for its center, still lost the most. The task force requests that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature review the acting commissioner’s plan with specific focus on the following considerations:

n The sheer size, distance and lack of access to adequate transportation in the north country places undue hardship on local individuals and families requiring quality mental health services. With the plan provided by the acting commissioner, no full-service state psychiatric hospital will be located north of the communities along the state Thruway. As a result, the distance between the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center and the nearest proposed center of excellence is significantly further than the same distance between other OMH facilities in all other areas of the State.

n As a result of the acting commissioner’s proposal, residents and families in the north country will be forced to travel to facilities which in many cases are well over 100 miles from their home communities. The offered solution of “hospitality housing, discounted hotel arrangements, and web-based video conferencing” offered by OMH spokesman Benjamin Rosen highlights the lack of detail and planning for services for those who are going to be most negatively impacted by the OMH proposal.

n Though the OMH proposal highlights continuity of employment, three of the five examples of this commitment involve the transfer of jobs from existing facilities, such as the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, to other areas of the state. The removal of any jobs from the north country, which is by virtually every measure already the most economically challenged region of the state, will have a disproportionately negative impact on our region.

n The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center currently provides a unique range of children/youth, adult and sexual offender treatment programs as well as an on-site OASAS alcohol and substance abuse treatment facility. Preserving one facility in a rural part of the state that already offers this diversity of services would enable OMH to have a center of excellence that is distinguished from other OMH centers.

n The elimination of catchment areas in the acting commissioner’s plan may create a greater need for services for those individuals and families who would choose to receive care in a quiet, serene facility (such as on the banks of the St. Lawrence River) as opposed to a facility in a congested, urban location.

n The leading role the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center has taken in establishing a continuum of care with a number of community-based organizations in the region. Again, this track record of delivering mental health services in a rural setting could be a model for other areas of the State.

n The potential and willingness of the universities and hospitals in the region to collaborate and cooperate with the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. As demonstrated both at the listening tour visit and through numerous letters and resolutions of support, there is clearly the potential to form the educational affiliations and partnerships needed to develop this facility into a “Regional Center of Excellence.”

n Over 70 letters and resolutions of support were provided for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center from communities, colleges and school districts, churches, development organizations, elected officials, hospitals, businesses, and local residents throughout the north country. Each day more letters and resolutions continue to arrive in support of the facility.

Further, after considering the foregoing, the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force requests that Acting Commissioner Woodlock and Governor Cuomo amend the OMH Regional Centers of Excellence Plan to include the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center as the “Northern Center of Excellence” and in so doing preserve three inpatient adult wards as well as three inpatient children/youth service wards at the center.

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