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Mental health centers under the new plan. Image: New York State Office of Mental Health
Mental health centers under the new plan. Image: New York State Office of Mental Health

Local leaders weigh in on Ogdensburg Psych Center cuts

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New York's Office of Mental Health passes over the St. lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg in its plan to center mental health services at 15 regional hubs across the state.

Adult and child treatment services will be moved out of Ogdensburg under the three-year plan. A secure sex offender program will remain.

The announcement came in a press release yesterday from the state office in Albany. It says the reorganization will "transform the public mental health system."

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Longtime Ogdensburg newspaperman Chuck Kelly chairs a task force dedicated to preserving the psych center.

He says the details still aren’t clear, "we're asking the commissioner for a meeting at least on the telephone first for clarification of what they put out today.

"We were hoping we'd be one of the sites of excellence, and we're not listed as one, and we find that unfortunate because of where we live and how far people have to travel if they do what we think they're going to do. We're not really clear on what they're going to do at this point, but she's agreed to have a discussion with the task force on the telephone and the task force will meet and decide what questions we want to ask and where we think we are with it."

The Ogdensburg facility has long been a major employer in St. Lawrence County. More than 500 people currently work there.

It’s not clear what the plan’s immediate impact on those jobs will be. Kelly told WWNY-TV he had spoken with the state Mental Health Commissioner, who said no jobs would be cut right away.

Kelly spoke with NCPR’s Nora Flaherty late yesterday, saying "but 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, the commissioner has already agreed to sit down on the telephone and answer questions for the entire task force."

Asked what he hopes the result would be, Kelly said, "I'm hoping we can turn some of this around,"  emphasizing the possibility was "absolutely" realistic.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell says she’ll fight to save the local jobs and services. In a press release, she said  “the regional centers of excellence in Syracuse and Utica are not sufficiently close to the local populations....We should be maintaining the service levels here, if not expanding them,” she said.

State Sen. Pattie Ritchie of Ogdensburg had led an effort to convince the state agency to locate one of its centers of excellence there.  In a press release, she called the reorganization a "no-layoff plan,” that will assure a “continued role” for the facility.

She also said that, while many parts of the plan aren't yet clear, "There is no doubt in my mind that [it] would look far different—and possibly much worse—but for the strong outpouring of support from this community."

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