By JIMMY LAWTON
OGDENSBURG – Local leaders want details regarding the state’s plan to close six wards at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center and will continue working to ensure patient care does not suffer.
Ogdensburg Mayor Bill Nelson, Assemblywoman Addie Russell, Sen. Patricia Ritchie and SLPC Task Force Chairman Chuck Kelly want to see jobs and services maintained at the psychiatric center, but still have questions regarding the impact of the state’s proposal.
The Office Mental Health announced Wednesday it would be phasing out inpatient care for adults and children at SLPC by transferring those services to Syracuse and Utica. According to the proposal inpatient care at the facility would end in 2017.
Members of the local St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force expressed surprise and dismay on the apparent plan to cut services at the Ogdensburg center. (see story here)
OMH said SLPC will become a “community hub” for an Upstate Forensic Center of Excellence. It will maintain and possibly expand its sexual offender program and provide outpatient and community-based treatment for the mentally ill.
The plans also claims that no employees will be laid off in the near future, but details regarding how that will be accomplished were scare.
That has task force chairman Kelly frustrated.
“I am reading bad things. I see the children’s unit is going. I see the adult unit is going and I see the sex offender unit is staying. I am disappointed.”
Kelly said it is inevitable patient care will suffer and jobs will likely be transferred outside of the area under the current proposal. He said the task force will continue to fight SLCP’s future.
“They say there won’t be a reduction in jobs. Well if they keep them, they won’t be here. Employees are going to have to relocate,” he said. “What does that mean for our hospitals? What does that do to our schools?”
Nelson, who is also a task force member, said losing community members would be an economic and social blow to the community.
“This isn’t just an economic impact, but these folks add to the quality of life in our community. These are our Little League coaches and our scout leaders. If they have to relocate for work, that is going to hurt us,” he said.
While the task force prepares for a fight, they will have support from Sen. Patty Ritchie and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell.
Ritchie said there is still time to modify the state’s plan and she will work to ensure patients continue to receive the services they need and ensure employees aren’t transferred out of the region.
“I will continue to speak with community leaders once the details come out to better measure what the impact will be. I will continue to advocate for the 550 jobs and will continue working with colleagues to see if we can mitigate some of the impact as we develop a budget.”
Russell also vowed to fight for the facility’s future.
“The Office of Mental Health’s decision to no longer provide inpatient services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will have a detrimental impact on not only the patients and families who utilize the facility, but also the hardworking staff who provide these critical services,” she said in a prepared statement. “These few regional centers of excellence in Syracuse and Utica are not sufficiently close to the local populations that need them here.”
Russell was also concerned about any potential job losses not directly related to treatment.
“That’s why I will be advocating vigorously to try to retain the services that are currently at the psychiatric center. We should be maintaining the service levels here, if not expanding them. That will continue to be my push.”
For now, all four are hoping to get more answers as they prepare for a second round fight to keep the facility intact.
Kelly said the task force will speak with OMH Commissioner Kristin Woodlock next week in a phone conference and he and his fellow members will have a lot of questions.
“We are going to ask her and we are going to ask the politicians too. I want to know what the state legislators are going to do. I want to know what the governor is going to do. We want to know what it is all about.”
Kelly encouraged everyone with concerns to continue writing their representatives.
“We are going to keep fighting.”