OGDENSBURG -- Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D-Theresa) will be defending the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center at the state Office of Mental Health (OMH) “listening tour” stop in Ogdensburg next week.
Local officials and union leaders fear the facility may be shut down and jobs lost.
While no decisions on OMH facility closures have been announced, Russell said she feels it is “important for the community to tell its story and fight to keep psychiatric services local.”
OMH officials will be in Ogdensburg on May 15 from 10 a.m. to noon to hear citizen commentss on the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center as OMH considers finding savings in their budget.
The governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget included provisions that would allow OMH to remodel the state system and give the governor unilateral power to close psychiatric facilities with only a 75-day notification period for hospital closures and a 45-day notification period for ward or bed closures.
The legislature rejected the proposal in favor of the existing law that requires a 12-month notification process, which was preserved in the final budget. OMH had planned the listening tour prior to the outcome of the final budget.
“While we were able to push back on immediate closures in the budget process, it is clear that efforts will continue at OMH to change the current service model,” Russell warned.
“We need to be proactive and let them know that this facility is very important. Turnout at the event is vital – officials from OMH need to hear from everyone with information that will demonstrate that moving these very vital services out of the area would be detrimental to the community and entire region served by the center, including Fort Drum.”
Russell said that she has had several meetings with officials representing staff, community leaders and mental health advocates. There are also efforts underway to help the facility reduce its operating costs before closures or service reductions are made, Russell said.
“I will focus on making the point that you do not need to fix a hospital and outpatient program that is a tremendous success,” Russell said. “Yes, we can work to find savings with OMH, but if the facility is not failing in its service, it would be a mistake to dismantle it.”
“I recognize the fact that our state budget continues to be tight, but we have other options to find savings for the state – options that can also provide ancillary jobs,” Russell noted.
The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center was “right-sized” in the era of deinstitutionalization. The center now supports a large number of patients residing in the community.
“It is imperative that the state keeps its commitment to provide the quality services and support these patients need. The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center has the reputation of being a model hospital, providing some of the best care in the state” a statement from Russell’s office said.
Assemblywoman Russell represents the 116th District, known as the “River District,” which includes Ogdensburg and all the townships in the county along the St. Lawrence River, plus Canton and Potsdam and a few others.