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St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center provides vital services to region


I admit it. I was surprised, then dismayed, and ultimately upset by the unsigned “Strategic Asset” opinion piece in the Sunday, June 2, Watertown Daily Times. The writer suggested that the current St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center would fare better to be offered up as one of the state’s strategic assets for tax relief and economic development than to remain open with the services it currently offers.

It seems to me the writer either didn’t attend the state’s Listening Tour in mid-May, or the writer attended and chose to ignore the testimony. It was perfectly clear from all the testimony presented at the Listening Tour that not only is the center a necessity in our area, but it also holds potential to expand and become a Center of Excellence in New York state. Testimony spoke at length to the high quality of services, the need for those services to remain accessible to north country residents, and how these services are integral to the needs of school districts, local police, and health offices across the area. There was also testimony regarding the potential loss of over 500 highly trained employed personnel if there was a closure of the center.

The mystery writer states: “Delivery of psychiatric services has changed. ... The north country needs to embrace new directions and lobby to place the Psychiatric Center on the list of strategic assets in New York state.” I read that and wondered how the delivery of psychiatric services has changed. Is it that people attempting suicide don’t need multiple hours of therapeutic counseling anymore? Is it that people who go off required medications for any number of reasons and have episodes that require short-term institutionalization and mental health care on a one-to-one basis no longer need that care? Is it that families of people with mental health issues are no longer in need of the in-patient services offered at the center? Perhaps there is a reduction in PTSD and drug abuse in the area?

At the Listening Tour, I heard parents beg the acting commissioner not to close the facility because even as they, the parents, were doing all they could to provide home care for their loved ones; there was still a need to periodically institutionalize their loved ones to reinforce and perhaps relearn behaviors necessary for acceptable integration in a daily home life environment. Since the center is the only mental health unit north of the Thruway, these families needed to be able to visit their loved ones often; and research supported the therapeutic benefit of those visits for patient recovery.

I heard school officials talk about how the services of the center are integral to their already cash-strapped educational institutions, assisting numerous youth with acute issues. The center provides both outreach and in-house services. I also heard local police talk about how important it is to them to be able to transport people to a local facility. They spoke of the rise in drug-related street crime and the ever-increasing need for the services provided by the center.

It was also made clear that closing the center would increase unemployment, increase crime rates, and create a potential decrease in the property value of those living in the area. When contemplating the multiyear cost of refurbishing the center buildings as part of the strategic asset plan, the economic cost of waiting for employment levels to rise again, and the fact that the strategic asset proposal is betting on the fact that companies will want to relocate to an area that doesn’t provide easy highway or flight accessibility nor a sophisticated public transportation network. To me that’s a crap shoot.

I speak in favor of maintaining the status quo. Why take away current services and positions on the outside chance that in several more years of increased unemployment and increased building costs, there may well be an industry compatible to the area that chooses to establish itself here?

Ms. Kissam is a retired educator. She lives in Colton.

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