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River Agency Chair: keep Psych Center inpatients

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LOUISVILLE – The St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency Chairman says the road to saving 65 inpatient beds and all 500 jobs at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center is an uphill climb.

The Office of Mental Health plans to restructure inpatient services across the state by 2017. In St. Lawrence County, child inpatient care services will be moved to Utica and adult care services to Syracuse as part of a broad plan to create 15 regional centers of excellence. The sex offender program will remain in place.

“I hope that all the services will remain available,” Robert O. McNeil said Tuesday. “The commissioner says they want it closed, so we have to undo the commissioner’s decision. This is going to be a fight. It’s not scheduled to close for another couple of years, but I think this is going to be tough.”

After attending the meeting with state and local legislators and the chair of the Senate Mental Health committee, Mr. McNeil said he thinks the meeting, which brought over 100 north country citizens to city hall Tuesday, sent a strong message to state officials.

“I thought it was very productive,” Mr. McNeil said. “I thought that everyone, including Sen. Ritchie and the Assemblywoman Russell, did an excellent job. I thought that arguments of keeping that facility open from a number of professional people – psychiatrists, emergency rooms doctors from Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, along with the hospitals, school officials, and a number of those providing care – were well-expressed.”

Mr. McNeil said the loss of 500 jobs would stunt economic growth in the region, a mission he and River Agency have been fighting for since forming in 2010. But the loss of the quality of care in the north country could be even greater, he said.

“I think the big thing to remember is those people who travel to Ogdensburg from Malone and Plattsburgh, with their children,” he said. “If you tack another two hours on to that, it just can’t happen. It’s just a huge region which is cared for by this facility. A lot of these patients, if they don’t have adequate care, can end up in jail.”

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