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Transportation tops mental health needs for the team developing a post-inpatient care plan

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OGDENSBURG — Access to transportation and cultural sensitivity were the top mental health care needs in Central New York highlighted in recommendations to the state Office of Mental Health on Dec. 12.

The recommendations, made by the Central New York Regional Centers of Excellence Team, are part of a broader effort by the OMH to figure out the best way to transition away from inpatient mental health care.

OMH has proposed closing inpatient beds across the state, including at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Ogdensburg, concentrating inpatient facilities at Regional Centers of Excellence while expanding community-based care. Inpatient capacity in Ogdensburg will be transferred to hospitals in Syracuse and Utica, and the psychiatric center will become part of the Central New York Regional Center of Excellence.

The Central New York RCE Team encompasses an area stretching from the Pennsylvania border to the St. Lawrence River and from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain.

The team noted in its recommendations report that the region encompasses just under half the state’s total land mass.

“It is vital that transportation be addressed because if it is not, all efforts of hospital diversion and enhanced community services will be undermined,” the report states.

The recommendation also noted that mental health care needs to be culturally sensitive to people coming from diverse backgrounds to ensure everyone be given equal access.

“Central New York” includes Native American, immigrant, refugee, urban and rural populations of different ethnic and economic backgrounds with different needs and social pressures, the recommendations note.

The report’s 14 recommendations include bolstering school-based mental health care, increasing community outreach, improving employment and housing assistance and increasing use of tele-psychiatry.

After an RCE Steering Committee meeting Dec. 12, acting OMH Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan asked each of the five regional committees to list their top five identified needs.

These top five recommendations are due back to Mrs. Sullivan by the end of the month and will be used to help OMH determine funding priorities for 2014.

With committees representing vastly different parts of the state, Mrs. Sullivan told team members she understands the process is “complicated” but asked that the “low-hanging fruit” be identified to smooth the transition to community-based mental health care.

Triaging the top concerns in each area is crucial, Mrs. Sullivan said, so that funding can be secured in time for the first wave of closures next year.

The OMH plan calls for closing one adult inpatient ward at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in fiscal 2014-15 with the rest removed by 2017.

Outpatient operations and the sex-offender treatment program will be preserved in Ogdensburg, according to the plan.

The volunteer St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force, dedicated to keeping inpatient mental health care in Ogdensburg, met Dec. 10 with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who promised a reply within a week. Task force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said his group has not heard back from the governor but expects his recommendations soon.

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