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Activism rewarded

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People in the north country showed this week that defeat only occurs when they succumb to it.

Ogdensburg and Charles W. Kelly Jr. earned a well-deserved victory Thursday when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center would remain open. Through a videoconference, the governor revealed that the facility will become the Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence for the North Country.

Most importantly, this means that inpatient services for children and adults will remain at the Ogdensburg site. Plans announced earlier this year by the New York State Office of Mental Health called for these programs to be relocated to facilities in Syracuse and Utica.

But the new designation also means that local services will be expanded, making the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s even more valuable to the north country than it is now.

Word that the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center would be substantially downgraded had the effect of uniting mental health professionals, law enforcement agencies, elected officials and community leaders. They knew the plan was seriously flawed. As the only state-run psychiatric facility north of the Thruway communities, the loss of these services would have left clients from throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties incredibly vulnerable.

Grass-roots organizing led by Mr. Kelly spread the message to Gov. Cuomo and OMH officials that the plan as outlined this summer needed to be reworked. As a region that is more sparsely populated than other sections of New York State, supporters of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center were in an uphill battle over whose voices would be heard.

But they managed to conquer this deficit with a commitment to presenting the facts. Gov. Cuomo credited members of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force for the quality of the information they provided him on what effects losing these services at the Ogdensburg facility would have.

“The task force provided him with a book of support letters, demographic data about the region and information about the psychiatric center,” according to a story published in Friday’s issue of the Watertown Daily Times.

“I think you forgot the last chapter of the book,” Gov. Cuomo was quoted in the story as saying. “Because the last chapter of the book says the St. Lawrence Psych Center will remain open.”

This change of course for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center is a testament to the power of determination. The many people who spent countless hours researching this issue, presenting their cases and advocating for the local site deserve community gratitude for chalking up the win.

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