Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos announcement Thursday that the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will retain inpatient services, expand services for children and youth and that 50 outpatient respite beds will be added in various locations in the region was an amazing gift to the north country.
It will be designated the Childrens Behavioral Health Center of Excellence for the North Country, a title that reflects the high level of care the psychiatric center has given for more than a century and will hopefully give for another 100 years.
Even better, a news release from Mr. Cuomos office stated that no further implementation of the state Office of Mental Healths Regional Centers of Excellence plan will take place until the state can evaluate how effectively expanded community programs are working to reduce the need for inpatient psychiatric services. That will hopefully mean an honest-to-goodness litmus test for whether the states proposed inpatient capacity downsizing is appropriate. More and better outpatient community programs could very well mean fewer psychiatric hospitalizations.
Its true that the psychiatric center will lose 25 adult beds, but expanded clinic capacity in communities, the addition of a Mobile Integration Team to give boots-on-the-ground response to people in crisis, and enhanced outpatient therapy techniques will be funded by $3 million in savings the state realizes from cutting those beds. That will provide a sorely needed enhancement to existing outpatient programs, and that enhancement cant come fast enough.
Those plans still only exist on paper, so well see how it goes. But at this moment, we have a ray of hope that the state will finally start to do right by the north countrys mentally ill residents.
The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force had everything to do with the state reversing its plan to close the psychiatric centers inpatient wards. Its members didnt give up their efforts to get Albany to listen, and their persistence paid off handsomely for consumers, their families and the centers more than 500 employees.
Members of the task force, chaired by retired St. Lawrence County Newspapers Editor-Publisher Charles W. Kelly, worked their tails off to make our voices heard.
Chuck is a stubborn guy. Next to my father, the late William Graham Sr., he is the most hard-headed person I have ever known. That characteristic was both a blessing and a curse throughout the years I worked for him, as any of my colleagues over the years can attest.
In this case, it proved a blessing of immense magnitude. I knew when he got involved in this effort that he wouldnt quit until he made sure Albany saw the light. Under his leadership, if the task force was going to go down, it was going to go down swinging.
There were a lot of people working behind the scenes to help him who also deserve much of the credit. St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly, Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson, City Manager John M. Pinkerton, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell and state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie all played major roles in the effort, along with the rest of the task force: 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, Jamie Dafoe Weber of Gouverneur, John Burke, retired director of inpatient services at the Binghamton Psychiatric Center, county Legislature Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas, Clarkson University Senior Vice President and Provost Chuck Thorpe and Government Relations Director Robert Wood, Jim Scordo, executive director of Credo in Watertown, and Greg Sharland, facility manager at Ag Energy.
My hat is off to all of them, in addition to the numerous organizations, agencies and residents who passed resolutions and wrote letters to Albany asking OMH to abandon its plan to close our psychiatric center.
My hat is off to Gov. Cuomo and OMH officials. Gov. Cuomo has a reputation as somebody who is uncompromising in his vision for the states future. Im happy to see that reputation, at least in this case, wasnt so accurate. Thank you, Mr. Cuomo, for listening.
Merry Christmas, north country. We couldnt ask for a better gift.