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St. Lawrence Psychiatric won’t downsize until after community mental health services are stepped up

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OGDENSBURG — Community-based mental health services will be enhanced before any inpatient beds are closed at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, a state Office of Mental Health spokesman said Friday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that the psychiatric enter would retain inpatient services and become a center of excellence specializing in children’s mental health care, reversing an OMH proposal to move inpatient capacity to downstate hospitals starting next year.

Mr. Cuomo announced that the center’s 28 child and adolescent inpatient beds will remain open, while 25 of the facility’s 65 adult inpatient beds will be closed. An additional 50 community residential beds will be opened in the region.

“The implementation of the new plan for the north county will ensure that proper community supports are in place prior to any ward closure,” OMH spokesman Benjamin Rosen said Friday in an email message. “No closure of any adult inpatient ward will occur until July 2014, at earliest.”

The governor had also outlined several expanded programs at the psychiatric center, which will be renamed the Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence for the North Country. The programs include enhanced mobile crisis units to dispatch help to those in need in more rural settings, an expanded day treatment program and enhanced use of tele-psychiatry for children to meet with counselors via video conference.

Mr. Rosen said the plan is in its infancy, and the development of a workable mental health care model for the north country will be based on the recommendations of the Central New York Regional Centers of Excellence Team, which includes north country health professionals and mental health advocates.

The team issued 14 recommendations to a larger steering committee earlier this month based on the assumption that the psychiatric center was closing. It identified as the region’s top priorities a need for better transportation for rural people and cultural sensitivity training for people working with psychiatric patients.

The team also highlighted a need for better in-school psychiatric crisis management and increased access to housing and employment assistance.

Mr. Rosen said the recommendations by the Central New York Team and others “provided invaluable advice that aided the Office of Mental Health in planning the expansion of community-based services in the north country and throughout the state, including the restructured community-based services announced by Gov. Cuomo yesterday. The reports which the teams submitted last week will continue to guide the Office of Mental Health in the planning and development of these services.”

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