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Russell: O'burg losses will limit access to psych care

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Local leaders say they are surprised and disappointed by the state Office of mental health's decision to close down adult and child in-patient services at the St. Lawrence psychiatric center in Ogdensburg.

In a statement yesterday, the local task force advocating to preserve the facility said, "This region... had the most to lose in this process, and though it was the most vocal and consistent in its support for its center, still lost the most."
The Task Force wants Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to review the decision, which is part of an overall plan to reorganize mental health services across the state.
New York operates 24 psychiatric hospitals. The new plan would consolidate in-patient programs at 15 centers. None of those is in the North Country.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell said the plan is a slap in the face to rural people who already have a hard time accessing mental health services: "We should be maintaining service levels here, if not expanding them."

And she agreed with the task force that the elimination of child and adult inpatient care in Ogdensburg comes as a bit of a surprise.

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Reported by

Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

Addie Russell: I think that most of us familiar with the Psych Center realize that it really is probably the right size for this area. It's not a little on the small side, but it's certainly was providing a base of services that I think the community has demonstrated that it needs. So the decision to really over the next couple of years take away the inpatient services completely, I think is a bit of a shock.

Image: New York State Office of Mental Health
Image: New York State Office of Mental Health
Martha Foley: I'm looking at the map that the plan provides of the Central New York region and the Hudson River region and that encompasses all of the North Country and actually stretches from the Canadian border down to Binghamton and down to Westchester County, it's just a huge region of New York state. And there is no center of excellence, it sounds like there is not going to be any state inpatient services really above the thru-way. Is that what you're seeing?

AR: That's what I see as well, and I think it's really kind of a slap in the face to the many rural communities. It really does not take into account the distance that has to be traveled and how important it is for families to be able to be a part of a loved one's recovery and their ultimate resettlement back into the community that they came from. We got away from the institutional settings, these big, you know, urban-centered institutional settings many years ago. And it almost looks like we're taking a step backward.

MF: Ogdensburg is classified on this map as a community hub. There's a care unit for sex-offenders that will remain there. But what does that hub mean, do you know yet?

AR: Well I think it's an acknowledgement of the fact that this has been a historical psychiatric center that moved away from institutionalizing patients many years ago, and settled many chronically-affected people into the Ogdensburg community. And so there are well over 1,000 patients that receive outpatient services in Ogdensburg, and so I think it's an acknowledgement that there is a significant clientele that has been resettled into the community that is receiving community-based treatment at this point and they don't plan to change that.

Martha: So that's some good news for the outpatient people I suppose.

AR: Also the same population of outpatient folks in the community, on occasion need to be admitted to inpatient. And now those folks are either going to have to travel to Syracuse or to Albany. And I think that it's probably going to result in longer inpatient stays while the people try to put together the pieces to transition them back home.

MF: How final is this?

AR: I don't think it's completely final. There are two budget cycles between now and when the most dramatic changes are scheduled to occur in Ogdensburg. And it's something that I plan to fight vigorously during the budget cycle. I know how important these services are to our community. We need to ensure that people don't feel like they…can't access services because the logistics are more than they can try and figure out. I'm very concerned that people will deteriorate to a worse state before they truly go and seek the treatment that they need.


Statement from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force Regarding The NYS OMH Regional Centers Of Excellence Plan

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force is surprised and disappointed by the recommendations made in the plan provided yesterday by Acting Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock to close the Adult and Children/Youth inpatient facilities at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. This region, which with its long history providing quality services for the mentally ill, had the most to lose in this process, and though it was the most vocal and consistent in its support for its center, still lost the most. The Task Force requests that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature review the Acting Commissioner’s plan with specific focus on the following considerations:

The sheer size, distance and lack of access to adequate transportation in the North Country places undue hardship on local individuals and families requiring quality mental health services. With the plan provided by the Acting Commissioner, no full-service State Psychiatric Hospital will be located north of the communities along the NYS Thruway. As a result, the distance between the SLPC and the nearest proposed center of excellence is significantly further than the same distance between other OMH facilities in all other areas of the State.

As a result of the Acting Commissioner’s proposal, residents and families in the North Country will be forced to travel to facilities which in many cases are well over 100 miles from their home communities. The offered solution of “hospitality housing, discounted hotel arrangements, and web-based video conferencing” offered by OMH spokesman Benjamin Rosen highlights the lack of detail and planning for services for those who are going to be most negatively impacted by the OMH proposal.

Though the OMH proposal highlights continuity of employment, three of the five examples of this commitment involve the transfer of jobs from existing facilities, such as the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, to other areas of the State. The removal of any jobs from the North Country, which is by virtually every measure already the most economically challenged region of the State, will have a disproportionately negative impact on our region.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center currently provides a unique range of Children/Youth, Adult and Sexual Offender Treatment programs as well as an on-site OASAS Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment facility. Preserving one facility in a rural part of the State that already offers this diversity of services would enable OMH to have a Center of Excellence that is distinguished from other OMH Centers.

The elimination of catchment areas in the Acting Commissioner’s plan may create a greater need for services for those individuals and families who would choose to receive care in a quiet, serene facility (such as on the banks of the St. Lawrence River) as opposed to a facility in a congested, urban location.

The leading role the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center has taken in establishing a continuum of care with a number of community-based organizations in the region. Again, this track record of delivering mental health services in a rural setting could be a model for other areas of the State.

The potential and willingness of the universities and hospitals in the region to collaborate and cooperate with the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. As demonstrated both at the listening tour visit and through numerous letters and resolutions of support, there is clearly the potential to form the educational affiliations and partnerships needed to develop this facility into a “Regional Center of Excellence.”

Over 70 letters and resolutions of support were provided for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center from communities, colleges and school districts, churches, development organizations, elected officials, hospitals, businesses, and local residents throughout the North Country. Each day more letters and resolutions continue to arrive in support of the facility.

Further, after considering the foregoing, the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force requests that Acting Commissioner Woodlock and Governor Cuomo amend the OMH Regional Centers of Excellence Plan to include the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center as the “Northern Center of Excellence” and in so doing preserve three inpatient Adult wards as well as three inpatient Children/Youth service wards at the Center.

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