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St. Lawrence Psych Center overflow indicative of what’s to come if center closes, advocates say

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OGDENSBURG — Several mental health patients have been sent to facilities hours away from Ogdensburg recently because of overcrowding at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

The state Office of Mental Health has proposed closing inpatient facilities at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center and moving them to Utica and Syracuse.

Advocates claim if the current capacity isn’t even enough for the region, reducing the number of inpatient beds would only make matters worse.

Dr. H. Theodor Klaudt, chief of emergency medicine at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, said, “It’s happening. I know yesterday we transferred someone to Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital” in Plattsburgh.

Claxton-Hepburn, the state-designated location for mental health patients in the county to receive evaluation before being sent to a psychiatric center, is often required to send people who need inpatient care to facilities other than the Psychiatric Center when it has reached capacity.

“It happens not infrequently,” Dr. Klaudt said. “We’re having to transport people very significant distances.”

Dr. Klaudt, who wasn’t able to provide numbers Thursday, said the past week has seen Claxton-Hepburn send several people to facilities hours away.

The closest facility is CVPH in Plattsburgh, Dr. Klaudt said, but more frequently patients who cannot be housed at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center are sent to Syracuse, Utica or Glens Falls.

“It’s a hardship for people,” Dr. Klaudt said, adding that families are an important part of the rehabilitation of patients dealing with mental health issues.

When a person requires inpatient care, sometimes for as long as two weeks, it can strain the budget of family members attempting to visit their loved one, Dr. Klaudt said.

“It’s the time factor; it’s the money factor,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have a lot of money or even reliable transportation.”

“Sometimes the need exceeds the current capacity,” Dr. Klaudt said. “Once we don’t have the children and the youth facility here any longer it’s going to place a significant burden on the families of those children who are going to have to travel hours away.”

“It doesn’t make sense at all,” Dr. Klaudt said. “We’re living in a remote area; we certainly do have a need for mental health beds up here. What’s going to happen when St. Lawrence Psych is no longer here?”

As of Thursday there were eight out of 65 adult inpatient beds available at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center and three of 28 children’s beds, according to Office of Mental Health spokesman Benjamin Rosen, who said the number of patients fluctuates daily.

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said that if the local inpatient services go away, “every day somebody is going to have to go” downstate.

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