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Psychiatric services

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A state proposal to restructure its mental health services could close the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg to the disadvantage of north country residents in need of those services.

The Office of Mental Health is conducting a listening tour on its proposal to place greater emphasis on outpatient treatment for the mentally ill and to reduce inpatient services of the type available in Ogdensburg. Statewide services would be concentrated in yet-to-be-determined Regional Centers of Excellence.

Northern New Yorkers will have a chance to make their case for keeping the St. Lawrence County center open in a forum from 10 a.m. to noon May 15 at the Ogdensburg facility. In the lead up to the hearing, much of the talk has been about the potential loss of 500 jobs. The loss of jobs would be devastating to the economically depressed region, but that is not the overriding message state officials should hear. The primary concern is ensuring the availability of critical mental health services to adults and children in a 13-county region.

It is unclear where or how many regional centers would be established under the state plan. However, closing the Ogdensburg center would force residents from Massena and Malone to travel hundreds of miles to Syracuse or even farther to Binghamton for treatment with the added burden of midwinter trips.

Families and friends would be inconvenienced and unable to make such distant and costly trips to visit and support a loved one or friend as frequently as they could with nearby facilities. Patients and families need to have reasonably easy access to one another.

Removing services that have been fairly close to a rural population makes it more difficult for Northern New Yorkers. The state is talking about regional centers of excellence, but there is no excellence if a whole swath of New Yorkers is excluded.

As the state considers the future of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, the case needs to be made that what matters is maintaining services and the quality of care for rural New Yorkers.

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