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State Senate bill would postpone inpatient center closures until 2015

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A bill has been introduced in the state Senate to delay the closure of inpatient psychiatric facilities across the state until the spring of 2015.

A sponsor for a companion bill in the Assembly has not come forward yet, according to a spokesperson from the office of state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, though attempts are being made to find one. Mrs. Ritchie is a co-sponsor of the bill with Deputy Senate Leader Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton.

The one-house bill delays implementation of plans by the state Office of Mental Health to consolidate inpatient psychiatric services. Under the plan, adult inpatient beds will be moved from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Ogdensburg, in state fiscal year 2014-15 to Hutchings Psychiatric Center in Syracuse. Children’s inpatient beds at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will move to Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, Utica, in state fiscal year 2015-16.

According to the bill, “The office of mental health is authorized, on and after April 1, 2015, to close, consolidate, reduce, transfer or otherwise redesign services of hospitals, other facilities, and programs operated by the office of mental health.”

The bill cites the loss of inpatient services for people dealing with severe mental illnesses and the lack of a detailed plan for community support services to fill the gap as the main reasons for the moratorium.

Mrs. Ritchie said she hopes that in the long run the state will recognize the need to retain inpatient services in the north country and that the legislation will provide “an opportunity to make our case and continue to fight.”

Because the bill seeks to limit the ability of OMH to move inpatient beds until 2015, Mrs. Ritchie said, it will give lawmakers and advocates an additional year to understand more fully the plan to consolidate mental health services.

“The plan that OMH unveiled is not really a plan at all,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “The details are not available and this is too critical of an issue not to have a well thought out plan ahead of time.”

“It’s not fair to those who live in the north country,” she said. “Access to mental health care should not just go along the Thruway.”

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa , said she had not been approached to introduce the legislation in the lower house as of Tuesday afternoon but there will be “an Assembly version of the Senate bill as soon as logistically possible.”

Mrs. Russell said the bill is valuable as a way to delay the rollout of the plan by OMH and provide time to reach a compromise.

“It doesn’t allow us to abandon our work to keep the psychiatric center open,” Mrs. Russell said. “OMH has put out a plan and unless an agreement is made to change the plan, all we would do is push off the implementation of the plan for a few years. I find value in having a little bit of time to work with OMH to come up with a better plan.”

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force, a community organization made up of volunteers working to keep inpatient beds in Ogdensburg, is going to continue working despite the moratorium.

“We’re trying to win; we’re not in for a compromise,” Task Force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said. “My goal is to convince [OMH] that they’re on the wrong track.”

Mrs. Ritchie said she isn’t looking for anything less than a new plan that preserves inpatient care in the north country.

“It’s going to be pretty hard to convince me that any plan they put forward taking inpatient services out of the north country entirely will be acceptable,” she said. “This pushes it out long enough for us to get the plan changed.”

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