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Moving the health center will negatively impact care in the region, task force says

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OGDENSBURG — Local activists are calling on the state to consider the quality of care they will lose if they move inpatient services out of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

In the wake of the state Office of Mental Health announcement last week that it plans to close inpatient services at the center, the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force is saying the decision didn’t take into account the impact on the mental health community.

The plan is to move adult inpatient care to Syracuse and child inpatient care to Utica.

“How are people going to make the trip down?” asked Charles W. Kelly, St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force chairman. “We can do as well here as they can anywhere else.”

City Manager John M. Pinkerton said the plan will force mental health patients to leave “the support network they have here.”

Mr. Pinkerton also noted the calm atmosphere of the north country and said that making people receive treatment in a more urban location could be distressing.

Furthermore, Mr. Pinkerton said, asking people to travel to Syracuse or Utica could be too great a burden.

“If a person has to travel three hours for treatment,” he said, “they may opt to forgo that treatment.”

Sister Donna Franklin, diocesan director of Catholic Charities in Ogdensburg, said the decision by OMH was clearly guided by financial concerns, not by the well-being of people in the region.

“The focus is not on quality of care,” she said.

Sister Donna said, “With the reality of the lack of transportation, with the cost of what it would take for families to travel [to Utica or Syracuse], it’s going to make it very difficult for families to be involved in the treatment of their loved ones. That impacts their ability to recover. It’s just too far to place people away from their families; that’s the bottom line.”

Sister Donna said Syracuse and Utica are too far away to be considered regional care centers.

“It can’t be considered regional care if it’s so far away,” she said.

Mr. Kelly said the services should stay in Ogdensburg to ensure the north country is well served.

“These people are honest people who are sick and they need help and they need the state to quit jerking them around,” he said.

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