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Medicaid cuts may leave 80 mental health patients in St. Lawrence County without transportation to treatment centers

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CANTON — Eighty county residents who rely on the St. Lawrence County Community Development Program for transportation to and from mental health treatment programs may be stranded in June if additional funding is not secured.

Executive Director Norma S. Cary said recent changes to how Medicaid is administered in the state mean that transportation to certain mental health programs no longer will be covered.

Formerly the county Department of Social Services administered Medicaid transportation. However, it is now managed by the Syracuse-based Medical Answering Services on behalf of the state Department of Health.

Prior to the changes, the county Department of Community Services also was responsible for covering the costs of about 30 of the 80 people for whom the Community Development Program provided transportation.

But, Mrs. Cary said, “We switched them all to Community Support Services,” which provides $112,495 for transit services.

Mrs. Cary said an additional $150,000 is needed to continue operating the program. “Once that $112,495 runs out in June, everybody is done,” she said. “The clock is ticking.”

The development program includes transportation to mental health treatment programs at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Seaway House and Step-by-Step in Ogdensburg.

Although the programs are part of the patient’s treatment regimen, Mrs. Cary said, the newly reorganized Medicaid reimbursement program won’t cover them. “They are saying these aren’t medical sites,” she said.

Patients “really depend upon these routines,” Mrs. Carey said. “They count on it.”

She said that without the programs in place, there is a “potential for them to be roaming the streets.”

Representatives from the offices of state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said they have contacted people in the state Health Department to seek a solution.

A request for comment from the state Health Department was not immediately returned.

Mrs. Cary noted that the transportation service is crucial for patients receiving community-based mental health care.

“It’s part of keeping them in the community,” Mrs. Cary said. “We’re trying to make contacts to plead with Albany to make sure these folks get to the sites they need to be at for their treatment. It really is an important part of their treatment and their stability.”

The program operates four vans that are based in Heuvelton, and employs three permanent drivers and one part-time individual.

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