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Moving in-patient services downstate could cost the county more in transportation fees

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OGDENSBURG — A proposal by the state Office of Mental Health to move inpatient services out of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center could lead to the county being required to spend more money on transportation fees.

“The cost of transportation is going to be another unfunded mandate,” said Charles W. Kelly, chairman of the Psychiatric Center Task Force.

The proposal by OMH would see child inpatient services moved to Utica and adult care to Syracuse. Mr. Kelly said the cost of transporting patients to those locations ultimately would fall on the county.

Patients now are assessed at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center before being taken to the psychiatric center, Mr. Kelly said. If a patient is eligible for Medicaid and is taken to the psychiatric center, the county pays the transportation fee, said Heather Wenzel, medical services supervisor at the county Department of Social Services.

It costs about $50 for an ambulette service to transport a patient from Claxton-Hepburn to the psychiatric center, but Ms. Wenzel said if patients have to be taken to Syracuse or Utica, it could cost upwards of $400.

“That’s an estimate that includes all the costs,” Ms. Wenzel said, noting that the figure includes mileage.

Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton said the Psychiatric Center Task Force is “pretty confident that this is going to be an unfunded mandate,” meaning that there will not be additional state aid to cover the increased transportation costs associated with the move.

Moreover, said Ms. Wenzel, “it’s going to create an additional finical burden for the friends and family [of in-patients.]”

Ms. Wenzel noted that north country residents with a loved one located in Syracuse or Utica will have a much more difficult time visiting them than if they were being treated locally.

“Being so far away from family members who are inpatients will be very troubling,” she said, noting the extra travel cost and the difficulty of carving out the time.

Mr. Kelly said, “It’s time that [the state] leveled with the people and told them the truth about just what the cost is going to be. We want the people to know the whole story.”

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