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Saved. The task force sold T-shirts to lead the effort to save jobs and services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdenbsurg. Photo: David Sommerstein
Saved. The task force sold T-shirts to lead the effort to save jobs and services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdenbsurg. Photo: David Sommerstein

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will become "center of excellence"

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Big news for Ogdensburg, and the North Country's network of mental health services. The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will not close as planned earlier this year by the state Office of Mental Health.
Key services will be retained, as will hundreds of jobs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered the news yesterday in a video conference. He said the old psychiatric hospital's focus will shift as it becomes a regional Center of Excellence.
Under the new plan, there will be a small reduction in the number of inpatient beds. But new programs will be added.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Earlier this year, the Office of Mental Health released a plan to downsize a number of the state’s psychiatric hospitals and create regional “centers of excellence.” But all those centers were south of the thruway. And patients from the North Country would have to travel to Utica and Syracuse. 

Chuck Kelly from Ogdensburg spearheaded a task force that met last week with Governor Cuomo. They gave the governor a book they’d prepared about why the psych center matters to the North Country.

During the video conference, Cuomo said he read it. 

"Because the last chapter of the book says the St. Lawrence Psych center is going to remain open, that’s what’s in the last chapter of the book," Cuomo said to cheers and applause.

The governor announced that the St. Lawrence psychiatric center won’t lose any of the 28 children’s and adolescent beds – instead, the center will be specialize in caring for kids, and will be called the Children’s Behavioral North Country Center for Excellence.

The number of adult inpatient beds will fall from 65 to 40.

That will save about $3 million dollars, which will go towards increased day services, a mobile unit that will respond to crises across the region, and increased telepsychiatry.

There will be more community beds for people who are transitioning from the psych center’s care back into society.

Cuomo also commended the task force on presenting its case thoughtfully. He said often, advocacy groups can get angry – but with the task force, that wasn’t the case.

"I thought it was laudatory the way you organized and really the professionalism you brought to this matter."

Assemblywoman Addie Russell represents Ogdensburg. She says she was thrilled with the announcement and  thanked Governor Cuomo for the decision.

"He took a personal interest in this. The community made a very sincere, genuine plea to staff, and the governor heard that directly as well. I can’t commend the governor enough for taking such an interest in how our community needs this facility here."

Chuck Kelly says keeping and adding services at the psychiatric center benefits the entire region.

"It’s a great day for the North Country. I can’t remember the last one like it. It’s good for the patients, it’s good for everybody. I couldn’t be happier."

St. Lawrence County legislator Sam Burns is from Ogdensburg. For him, the decision feels personal. He has an autistic son.

"You never know what can happen. And knowing this facility will be here in the future certainly puts us a little more at ease."

In a press release, Cuomo’s office said the Office of Mental Health will not implement its plan until it has consulted with communities and advocates about the need for inpatient care.

Cuomo also announced that psychiatric hospitals in Binghamton and Elmira will remain and open retain most of their inpatient beds.


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