The impromptu visit that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo paid this week to the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force offers a glimmer of hope that perhaps not all is lost in the groups quest to retain mental health services in the north country.
Members of the task force traveled to Albany to meet with Cuomo staffers Tuesday to discuss their concerns over the pending loss of inpatient services at the Ogdensburg facility. Gov. Cuomo surprised the task force members by inviting them into his office for an unscheduled get-together.
The New York State Office of Mental Health announced earlier this year that inpatient services for children and adults offered at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center would be eliminated. This is part of an effort by the OMH to shift clients from using inpatient state services to relying on programming offered by local organizations.
OMH officials said that adult inpatient services would be relocated to the Empire Upstate Regional Office of Excellence in Syracuse beginning next year. In addition, inpatient services for children and youths would be moved to the Empire State Regional Center of Excellence in Utica starting in 2015.
But the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center is the only psychiatric facility operated by the state north of the Thruway communities. Health care professionals, law enforcement agents and elected officials have said the OMHs belief that clients from throughout the north country will be able to travel to either Syracuse or Utica for vital services is not realistic.
Members of the task force said their meeting with Gov. Cuomo was a good encounter. Although no promises were made, they held out hope that there still exists some room for negotiation when it comes to carrying forth with the OMHs decision.
Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday that he has a plan for the future of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, which he will release in about a week. This suggests he has an outline in the works, but not all of the details have been hashed out yet.
Given all this, now is the time for people from Ogdensburg and beyond to speak out against the OMHs decision. Eliminating these services at the local facility will impact people in Jefferson and Lewis counties as well as those in St. Lawrence County, and a full-court press must be made to let the governor know there is a wide base of opposition to implementing the plans set forth by the OMH.
Send letters via snail mail to: The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State, NYS State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224; or call 518-474-8390.
A door has been opened, albeit slightly, to alter the course of any plan affecting the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. Lets not let this opportunity pass us by without making the most of it while we can.