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An Albany scheme to take jobs

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Ogdensburg — For at least 120 years patients in need of psychiatric treatment have been cared for through the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center (formerly known as the St. Lawrence State Hospital). Communities served are St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Essex and Franklin counties.

The quality of the employees at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, and the clinics throughout the counties it serves, remain outstanding. Many families in St. Lawrence County have had three or four generations of the same family working at the psychiatric center in Ogdensburg over the years.

Any shortcomings in the care of the mentally ill have been in Albany, not in the north country. Albany has come up with many changes over the years, but has never followed up on any of them by proper funding or proper care. The newest dream the Albany bureaucrats have come up with is to create “Regional Centers of Excellence” to be affiliated with research hospitals and create academic affiliations.

It all sounds wonderful, if you didn’t know New York state and its Office of Mental Health’s track record over the past 50 years or more with funds for everything else but no money to fund adequate patient care for the mentally ill. I suggest that this is nothing more than a new way of taking 500 more jobs out of the north country. Shameful! Keep in mind when a person is in need of psychiatric care, they need that care immediately. They should not be put on waiting lists or shipped off to a so-called Wellness Center. It makes me wonder if those in Albany understand mental illness in the first place.

It will be interesting as this latest Albany dream advances if it is but yet another of the three-men-in-a-closed room scenario — a drummed-up deal that the New York Senate and the state Assembly will meet in the middle of the night to approve. We can’t properly fund public education. We can’t seem to encourage small school districts to merge, but we can advocate taking more than 500 more jobs out of the north country, forcing families to relocate in other parts of the state to find jobs, or even out of state. Possibly this is a backdoor way of energizing.

Let’s review New York state’s track record over the years. In the 1950s, when Dr. Herman Snow was director at the St. Lawrence State Hospital, Albany decided it was time to put the patients out of the hospital in the various communities and commenced to do so. It would have been great had they followed up with budgeting the funds for patient follow-ups, but they didn’t.

For the first several years police and the hospital itself received complaints of patients sleeping in city parks instead of in the homes people being paid to care for them. And still today as patients live in the communities they do not receive the back-up support they need and have been promised to receive.

Doctors tell me that even today’s patients (both medical and psychiatric) respond to better care for if they are near family or at least in north country communities where the people care and treat the patients as they should be treated.

We will have an opportunity to voice our concerns so that the Albany bureaucrats who will obviously be making these decisions understand the quality of service the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center provides today and has been providing for more than 100 years in the communities it serves. It’s nice to have patients out in the community when they are ready to be released into the community, but it is sinful for the state not to give the patients the back-up support, guidance and resources they need and say they are providing. On this aspect the state has failed miserably. It’s not a partisan issue; it’s government in general.

Please make plans to attend the upcoming listening forum, and encourage patient families to attend as well as friends, neighbors, and business members. It takes a community to support our most vulnerable. The chambers of commerce in each community and county served by St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center should be active participants.

To attend you have to register on the Office of Mental Health website. Once on their home page go to the left and click on Listening Tours. If you would like to speak, check the appropriate box. Anyone from the community or any employee of the center should be allowed to speak.

The listening tour will be held on May 15 at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Unity Center, at 1 Chimney Point Drive, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. There will be signs on the hospital grounds directing people to the proper location.

The writer is retired editor and publisher of several St. Lawrence County newspapers.

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