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State meeting in Ogdensburg will gather input on psychiatric hospitals downsizing plan

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OGDENSBURG — The city has been added to the list of sites that state Office of Mental Health officials will visit to gather input on a plan to reduce the number of inpatient psychiatric hospital beds and develop more outpatient services for the mentally ill.

State officials will hold a meeting from 10 a.m. to noon May 15 at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s Unity Building, 1 Chimney Point Drive, as part of a “listening tour” to inform communities “about our vision and to help shape the future,” according to the office’s website, www.omh.ny.gov.

Changes are being made to the state’s mental health system, according to OMH’s website, in response to a shift to Medicaid managed care expected in 2014 for public mental health services and because the state’s system has too much inpatient capacity and not enough emphasis on community-based treatment and support.

The state has not named hospitals it would like to close. State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said four unnamed facilities were proposed for closure in the 2013-14 executive budget. None of those closures were approved by either house of the state Legislature, and lawmakers likewise turned aside a proposal for OMH to waive the 12-month notification period to close psychiatric hospitals.

“By the time the year’s notification goes by, God forbid anything happens, that gives us another budget cycle to advocate for the facility if it’s named to a closure list,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “It would give us some time to try to fight it.”

Holding a meeting in Ogdensburg to gather input offers a valuable opportunity for community members and mental health professionals to advocate for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center to remain open, she said. She said she will attend and encourages the community follow suit.

“We keep saying we need more treatment available for mental illness, but I hear from people every day that they have family members who have to wait six months to see somebody,” she said. “Now we’re looking at potentially closing a facility down when there’s nothing close by here.”

The center’s geographic isolation could be an eye-opener for mental health officials attending next month’s meeting, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said.

“I think it will be informative for them that this really is an isolated community, and how difficult it would be for our residents to seek services if they were moved to Syracuse or Albany,” Mrs. Russell said.

Psychiatric center employees belonging to the Civil Service Employees Association will also attend the meeting, said CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Edward B. “Bud” Mulchy. About 400 CSEA members work at the facility.

“I know they are concerned,” Mr. Mulchy said. “We are keeping an eye on it.”

Mr. Mulchy said the state’s movement toward closing inpatient facilities makes no sense in light of its recently passed stricter gun law.

“Part of that law is the need for mental health checks,” he said. “We have to check people for mental illness, but we’re going to close psychiatric centers. It’s typical politician-speak.”

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