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Seven added to Pychiatric Center Task Force

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POTSDAM - Seven more people have been appointed to the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force.

The appointments, announced Wednesday, include: Chuck C. Thorpe, senior vice president at Clarkson University, Potsdam; Ernest J. LaBaff, president emeritus at Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers International union; Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa; John Burke, a retired employee of the psychiatric center; Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, St. Lawrence County Legislature chairman; and county Legislators Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, and Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg.

The new members were appointed by Mayor William D. Nelson to beef up the group’s numbers and increase pressure on the state Office of Mental Health to keep inpatient services at the Ogdensburg psychiatric hospital.

“We the people are going to appeal to our governor,” Mr. Nelson said. “What I’m doing is finding people who have showed an interest and are willing to help us bring the fight forward. We as a community disagree with the Office of Mental Health and the decision to close the psych center.”

The plan put forward by the state Office of Mental Health last week is to move adult inpatient services to Syracuse and child services to Utica. All inpatient services are expected to be moved away from the center by 2016.

Mrs. Russell said she believes the task force is an essential part of the campaign to keep the inpatient mental health services in Ogdensburg.

“It’s important for us to be unified in working to keep the inpatient services in Ogdensburg,” she said. “It is extremely important for us to really paint a full picture of why we need to have inpatient services here in the community. It takes a community uniting and sending a strong and singular message that we need these services and we are going to fight for these services.”

Mr. LaBaff said he is worried about the loss of jobs that could accompany the loss of the inpatient services.

“I want someone to explain to me how you can close six wards and do away with inpatient care and still maintain 525 jobs,” Mr. LaBaff said in an emailed statement. “What I see happening is that people will retire or their jobs will be moved to other parts of the state and the number 525 will diminish very quickly.”

He said the task force will have to fight to keep those jobs.

“The north country has suffered great job losses, both union and non-union, and enough is enough,” he said.

Community mobilization is exactly the goal of the task force.

“I think it does nothing but make us stronger,” City Manager John M. Pinkerton said of the additional appointments. “Each of us has a particular skill set we can use going forward.”

Mr. Nelson said the task force is designed as a “broad initiative” uniting people from St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Franklin, Essex, Lewis and Clinton counties who are currently served by the psychiatric center.

“We’re going to enlist everybody from all walks of life to publicly voice their opinion, tell their stories,” he said. “We’re going to bring it to the people.”

The new members join Mr. Nelson, St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly, County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire, Mr. Pinkerton, county Community Services Director Angela Doe, Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Chairman Charles W. Kelly, Ogdensburg.

Mr. Nelson said he plans on adding more people to the task force in the coming days.

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