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Moving in-patient services downstate could cost the county more in transportation fees

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A proposal by the state Office of Mental Health to move in-patient services out of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center to locations could lead to the county being required to spend more money on transportation fees.

“The cost of transportation is going to be another unfunded mandate,” Charles “Chuck” W. Kelly, chair of the Psychiatric Center Task Force, said.

The current proposal by OMH would see child in-patient services moved to Utica and adult care being moved to Syracuse.

Mr. Kelly said the cost of transporting patients to those locations would ultimately fall on the county.

Currently patients are assessed at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center before being brought to the psychiatric center, Mr. Kelly said.

If a patient is eligible for Medicaid and is taken to the psychiatric center the county pays the transportation fee, said Heather Wenzel, medical services supervisor at the county Department of Social Services.

Currently it costs roughly $50 for an ambulette service to transport a patient from Claxton-Hepburn to the psychiatric center but Ms. Wenzel said if patients have to be transported to Syracuse or Utica it could cost upwards of $400.

“That’s an estimate that includes all the costs,” Ms. Wenzel said, noting that the figure includes mileage.

Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton said the Psychiatric Center Task Force is “pretty confident that this is going to be an unfunded mandate,” meaning that there will not be additional state aid to cover the increased transportation costs associated with the move.

Moreover, said Ms. Wenzel, “it’s going to create an additional finical burden for the friends and family [of in-patients.]”

Ms. Wenzel noted that north country residents with a loved one located in Syracuse or Utica will have a much more difficult time visiting them than if they were being treated locally.

“Being so far away from family members who are in-patients will be very troubling,” she said, noting the extra travel cost and the difficulty of carving out the time.

Mr. Kelly said, “It’s time that [the state] leveled with the people and told them the truth about just what the cost is going to be. We want the people to know the whole story.”

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