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St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will keep inpatient capacity, become a center of excellence

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OGDENSBURG — In a victory for north country mental-health patients and advocates, the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will keep inpatient services for adults and children, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday.

“The St. Lawrence Psych Center will remain open,” Mr. Cuomo told local leaders and state lawmakers via videoconference.

In addition to preserving inpatient care, which would have been lost under a state Office of Mental Health proposal, the Ogdensburg facility is being designated the Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence for the North Country, meaning that some services will be increased here.

In reversing the OMH plan — which had galvanized vigorous opposition from north country community, political and health-care leaders — Mr. Cuomo said he was moved by arguments presented by the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force for keeping the facility open.

The task force provided him with a book of support letters, demographic data about the region and information about the psychiatric center.

“I think you forgot the last chapter of the book,” Mr. Cuomo said, “because the last chapter of the book says the St. Lawrence Psych Center will remain open.”

Thanking his executive team, including OMH officials, Mr. Cuomo said he was proud of their “open-mindedness” and willingness to change course.

The new plan will see 28 child and adolescent beds retained at the center, with increased clinic capacity in community hubs. The center also will have an expanded day treatment program for youth with more classrooms.

Added to the center will be a Mobile Integration Team, which will be used to respond to psychiatric crises and provide consultation and a first line of treatment.

More telepsychiatry also will be used at the center, linking it with rural locations.

The adult ward will shrink from 65 beds to 40, with $3 million in savings reinvested in the children’s center, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Although the adult inpatient facility will decrease its capacity, Mr. Cuomo said, the state will add 50 community residential beds and expand the mobile crisis and support capacity for adults.

“The concept of community beds does make sense to us,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This to me is an intelligent plan going forward. We’ll see how it goes from there.”

Task force Chairman Charles W. Kelly thanked the governor.

“This is a great day in Ogdensburg,” Mr. Kelly said. “This is a very important part of our community, more so than most people understand.”

The task force, a volunteer organization that lobbied to preserve inpatient services, managed to secure an in-person meeting with the governor in Albany this month.

Jamie Dafoe Weber, Gouverneur, mother of a child who has used the psychiatric center’s services several times, thanked the governor for taking the time to speak with her during the Dec. 10 meeting with the task force delegation.

“You related to me as a parent first and foremost, and I appreciated that,” she said.

Mrs. Weber said having the psychiatric center so close to home was “paramount to [her son’s] health and well-being” and that the proximity allowed for frequent visits that played an important role in his ability to come home.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, were joined by Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson and St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, in thanking the governor for his decision to keep the center open and expand its children’s programing.

The news also was welcomed by Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue, who applauded the preservation of services. Mr. Cuomo not only halted the plan to close services in Ogdensburg but also pulled the plug on similar plans in Binghamton and Elmira.

Mr. Kelly acknowledged the efforts of other task force members, including Mr. Nelson, Mr. Putney, St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly, Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton, county Legislators Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, and Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, county Sheriff Kevin M. Wells, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center Chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. Theodore H. Klaudt, Mrs. Weber, John Burke, retired director of inpatient services at the Binghamton Psychiatric Center, North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry F. Douglas, Clarkson University Senior Vice President and Provost Charles E. Thorpe and Government Relations Director Robert H. Wood Jr., James P. Scordo, executive director of Credo in Watertown, and Gregory P. Sharland, facility manager at Ag Energy.

“I think it’s a win-win situation,” Mr. Kelly said. “I think we got everything we wanted. We know one thing for sure: it’s not closing down.”

Mr. Kelly said he expects to hear more about the timeline for the transition to expanded adult outpatient facilities in the spring as part of the state’s budget process.

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