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Psych center task force members meet with Gov. Cuomo in Albany

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OGDENSBURG — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a surprise personal appearance Tuesday to meet with representatives of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force in Albany as they appealed to him to keep inpatient services in Ogdensburg.

“When we were able to address the governor directly, I think that’s a wonderful sign that he’s willing to listen,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.

She said Mr. Cuomo told them he will have a recommendation about the future of the center “in about a week.”

Task force Chairman Charles W. Kelly characterized the meeting as “very positive,” although no promises have been made regarding the future of the psychiatric center.

The state Office of Mental Health has proposed moving inpatient mental health services out of its hospital in Ogdensburg and sending patients to facilities farther downstate as part of an effort to focus less on inpatient treatment and more on community-based psychiatric care.

Mr. Kelly said the early afternoon meeting with representatives from Mr. Cuomo’s administration — including state Office of Mental Health acting Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan and Director of State Operations Howard B. Glaser — had just ended when they were called back into a meeting room to sit down with Mr. Cuomo, who had flown in from Long Island.

Mr. Kelly said he presented the governor with a “Save SLPC” T-shirt and gave him a “St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center: A Regional Center of Excellence” binder full of information regarding the impact the inpatient care facilities have on the north country.

“We got no promises, nothing like that,” Mr. Kelly said. “The only promises I got out of them was to read the booklet from cover to cover.”

Mr. Kelly said the fight to save the inpatient facility could continue for a year or longer depending on the response from the governor’s office.

“It is a positive sign, no matter what the recommendation is next week, that the governor thought it was important enough to hear the issues directly,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “I’m hopeful that there will be some kind of plan that we can all get behind.”

State Sen. Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, said the meeting was “one of the best advocacy meetings I’ve seen.”

Mrs. Little said she believes the message, that you “cannot have one-quarter of the state without a center of excellence,” was driven home.

“The governor will be back within a week with his decision,” Mrs. Little said. “I’m hopeful.”

Mr. Cuomo was particularly adamant that he would consider the fairness of the plan, Mrs. Ritchie said. The current plan by OMH would shut down the only state inpatient mental health care facility north of Syracuse.

Mr. Cuomo’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, who was at the meeting with the governor’s staff, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

In total, 16 representatives from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force, a volunteer organization established by Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson, met with the governor and his representatives and were joined by Mrs. Ritchie, Mrs. Little and Mrs. Russell.

The task force delegation consisted of Mr. Kelly, Mr. Nelson, St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly, Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton, county Legislature Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, county Legislators Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, and Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, county Sheriff Kevin M. Wells, Dr. Theodore H. Klaudt, chief of emergency medicine at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Jamie Dafoe Weber, the parent of a child using psychiatric center services, John Burke, retired director of inpatient services at the Binghamton Psychiatric Center, Garry F. Douglas, president and CEO of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, Charles E. Thorpe, senior vice president and provost at Clarkson University, Potsdam, Robert H. Wood Jr., director of government relations at Clarkson, James P. Scordo, executive director of Credo in Watertown, and Gregory P. Sharland, facility manager at Ag Energy.

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