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Sat., Sep. 5
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Toothless tiger


A measure was introduced Tuesday in the New York State Senate to delay the relocation of inpatient psychiatric services from the north country, but the modest proposals would not make much of a difference.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, sponsored S.5986, the Freeze Unsafe Closures Now Act.

It would postpone moving inpatient services from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg until 2015. State Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, co-sponsored the bill along with Sen. Ritchie; he serves as the deputy leader in the Senate.

“The state Office of Mental Health’s plan — which was unveiled last summer, after the Legislature finished its session and left the capital — would shrink the state’s system of 24 psychiatric hospitals to just 15, with none located north or south of the Thruway, leaving millions of New Yorkers without sufficient nearby treatment options in their communities,” according to a news release from Sen. Ritchie’s office. “Sen. Ritchie’s bill would freeze that plan until at least 2015, giving state leaders more time to come up with other options. Under the existing plan, adult and children’s inpatient treatment services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center are to be shifted to Syracuse and Utica beginning next year.”

“The state’s plan puts our most vulnerable citizens and children in danger without a clear alternative that ensures sufficient, continued mental health care services close to home and in our communities,” Sen. Ritchie was quoted as saying in the news release. “The changes envisioned by the state are too drastic, and they come too quickly for communities and the mental health care system to adjust. We need to take a step back and come up with a better way of improving mental health care that doesn’t leave patients, families and communities stranded.”

There is no doubt that the state is confronting some serious financial challenges, and this will undoubtedly impact the services it offers to residents.

And it’s reasonable that the manner in which the OMH delivers psychiatric services be on the table.

Its Ogdensburg facility served 2,264 patients in 1955; it serves just 68 today.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center simply is not being used to the extent it was decades ago.

But that doesn’t mean there is no longer any need for inpatient services in the north country.

Yet officials with the OMH believe that residents from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties will be served just as well at facilities in Syracuse and Utica.

Given the greater distances this will force many people to travel, many of them will no longer be served.

We’ve already seen county agencies have to provide more psychiatric services, and removing what we have left here will only burden these resources even more.

The OMH plans to begin moving inpatient services out of Ogdensburg in 2014 and into 2015.

If enacted, Sen. Ritchie’s bill would postpone this action for a few months at best.

This is hardly enough time to ensure sufficient alternatives are in place when the relocation process begins.

Sen. Ritchie is correct that the OMH’s decision must be delayed, but it’s disingenuous for her to suggest her bill is the bold measure needed to make things right.

The bill does not do that.

She needs to revise her proposed legislation to require that a more appropriate amount of time is taken to consider how the loss of these services will affect people in the north country and what can be done to minimize the burden.

This bill needs more bite in it to ensure it lives up to Sen. Ritchie’s stated goals by addressing the problem head-on.

To introduce legislation of such little consequence is not a good use of her time.

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