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OMH leadership change adds uncertainty to psychiatric center future

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Friday’s announcement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of a new interim commissioner of the state Office of Mental health has added to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

Kristin M. Woodlock, who has served as acting commissioner since October, is leaving at the end of July and will be replaced by John Tauriello. Mr. Tauriello will be in that position until he is replaced by Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan who will likely be confirmed in November.

But the changes are taking place as plans to restructure mental health services across the state are coalescing, with the closure of inpatient care in Ogdensburg being part of the discussion.

“It could be easy for them to deflect blame [for the closure of services in Ogdensburg],” Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton said of the reshuffling of leadership at OMH.

“Is it a bait and switch? I don’t know,” he said.

Charles W. Kelly, chairman of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force, said in a prepared statement that “We are talking about the complete restructuring of the mental health services delivery system for New York State and now the architect of the plan is out and a new person is in. What happens to the promises that have been made about regional job commitments and care standards?”

Mr. Kelly said the rapid changes in OMH emphasize the need for north country residents to stand up for quality care and local stability.

“There’s too much at stake for the people of this region for us to let staff changes in Albany to distract us from the issues of fairness and access to quality services,” he said.

OMH spokeman Bejamin Rosen did not return a call for comment Monday on how the leadership changes will impact the state’s plan to downsize the number of inpatient mental health beds.

Mr. Kelly said the lack of clarity within OMH is “a negative thing.” It would be a “major loss to our community” if the center closed, he said.

“They made the pledge that there would be no job losses,” Mr. Kelly said. “Are they going to stick to that pledge? There are a lot of questions that there have been no answers to. And that’s a problem.”

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