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People gathered at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center for a rally and meeting with state officials earlier this year. Photo: Julie Grant
People gathered at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center for a rally and meeting with state officials earlier this year. Photo: Julie Grant

Ogdensburg Psych Center to lose under state plan

This story has been updated to reflect additional reporting.
New York is out with its plan to "transform the public mental health system."(pdf) The announcement came in a press release this afternoon from the state office of Mental Health in Albany.

Local attention has been focused on how the plan would treat the psychiatric center in Ogdensburg. According to the Watertown Daily Times, children and adult services will be moved to the Utica and Syracuse area (for a more thorough description, see page 43 of the document linked above -- the Ogdensburg facility is listed under "Central New York").

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Reported by

Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

Under the three year plan, the secure sex offender program at Ogdensburg will remain.

Image: New York State Office of Mental Health
Image: New York State Office of Mental Health
The Ogdensburg facility has long been a major employer in St. Lawrence County. More than 500 people are currently employed there. It’s not clear what the immediate impact will be. According to WWNY-TV, Chuck Kelly, who chairs a task force dedicated to preserving the Ogdensburg facility, says he and other members of the task force will meet with state officials next week. Kelly told WWNY he had spoken with the state Mental Health Commissioner, who said no jobs would be cut right away.

Speaking to NCPR, Kelly said he and the other members of the task force won't give up on the Psychiatric Center easily: "I come from old school, you don't just roll over and play dead, we're going to fight for it. We're going to go to Albany if we have to...I'm hoping we can turn some of this around."

In a press release, New York State Sen. Pattie Ritchie said the "no-layoff plan unveiled by the Office of Mental Health assures a continued role for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in the delivery of mental health services to the North County community, and protects hundreds of jobs that are vital to the economy of this region." She also said that, while many parts of the plan aren't yet clear, "there is no doubt in my mind that the OMH plan for the St. Lawrence Psych Center would look far different—and possibly much worse—but for the strong outpouring of support from this community."

Here’s the full press release from the Office of Mental Health:

Albany, NY- The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) today released a three year plan to transform the public mental health system. Under the Plan, OMH will shift the emphasis of its resources from costly long term inpatient treatment provided at over 24 hospitals to a state-of-the-art network of 15 Regional Centers of Excellence. The Regional Centers of Excellence Plan was developed after OMH met with over 30 communities throughout the state and received over 2,000 public comments.   

“The time has come to fundamentally change the way we think about mental health in New York State,” Office of Mental Health Acting Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock said.  “Working together with communities, we can and will change the outdated and costly way we serve individuals with mental illness. It is not an option to let outside forces define what our health care system will look like.  As New Yorkers, we are courageous and determined to take the lead in moving our behavioral health system towards excellence.”

Each Regional Center will offer the finest, highly specialized inpatient treatment available for those with the most serious forms of mental illness and will bring behavioral health services into line with other regionalized healthcare resources throughout the state.  In addition to providing inpatient care at the Regional Center's primary location, multiple community service hubs will be available throughout each region.  OMH will operate an expanded and intensive array of community based treatment, support and care monitoring based on local needs.

An important part of the Regional Centers of Excellence Plan is ensuring continuity of employment for the staff of facilities affected by reorganization. To do so, the Office of Mental Health will:

  • Transform inpatient positions into local community-based positions.
  • Transfer continuing inpatient positions to the Regional Center of Excellence where inpatient services will be located.
  • Prioritize voluntary transfer of current employees to vacant positions with the OMH system.
  • Offer transfer to other State Agencies.
  • Retrain impacted OMH employees for alternative State employment.

The Plan spans a three (3) year time frame. A multi-year plan provides needed time for community-level planning and priority setting, staff training as well as establishment of support services in the community.  Predictability and future vision will help to align the resources needed to achieve the intended outcomes from Regional Centers of Excellence.

In the next three years, OMH will establish fifteen (15) Regional Centers of Excellence (RCE) across the State.  Each RCE will have a specialized inpatient hospital program located at its center with a network of state-operated community-based services operating throughout their region. A community service “hub” will be located in geographically distinct areas of the region.

Over the past few months the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) met with over 30 communities, members of the Legislature and labor unions to explain the forces of change that are upon the mental health system.  During the Listening Tour, OMH shared their vision to strategically position OMH for the future. Thousands of comments were received, which have been essential to the formation of this plan and will guide us in its implementation. New Yorkers registered excitement about the future and concerns about access to service, gaps in the system, employment and impact of decommissioning buildings upon cities. 

The release of this plan coupled with the required legislative notice of significant service reduction, consolidation or closure, marks the start of a multi-year transformation. Regional implementation priorities and work plans will begin to be established in August with the formation of RCE Teams.  Implementation will commence in July 2014.

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