By JIMMY LAWTON
State Sen. Patty Ritchie says there is still time for the Office of Mental Health to revise its plan that would end inpatient care at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.
"I have some deep concerns about the plan, but I also realize that it could be worse," she said in an interview Wednesday following the OMH announcement.
Ritchie, who represents portions of St. Lawrence County along the river, said she wants more details regarding the facility's future and a clearer understanding of what impact the proposed changes will have on the North Country.
"It is designated as a community hub, but at this point we aren't sure what that means."
Ritchie said the she was enthused to see there would be no jobs lost, but had concerns that as the facility is downsized, jobs could be transferred outside of the region.
"I know there is going to be a focus on community based services and that it will look differently, and I know there will be an allocation of some positions for those services, but I don't know the specifics," she said.
Ritchie said she will work to ensure that the 550 jobs provided by SLPC are not transferred outside of the area.
"I want to make sure that those jobs they say will stay, are going to be here locally. I want to make sure that anyone who is transferred to a new location is going by their own choice."
Ritchie said she is also concerned about people seeking treatment and their families who will be facing a minimum commute of two hours from St. Lawrence County when inpatient services are transferred to Utica and Syracuse.
"I think it is a real concern for anyone involved in using those services, whether it be the family or the person recovering," she said. "Asking people to make an extra minimum two-hour drive, especially considering the economic resources here is going to be difficult. In the winter you are also talking about a drive that is traitorous."
Ritchie said she plans to review all information regarding the SLPC's future and will reach out to OMH for more details. She said she will also work with colleagues and members of the SLPC task force to ensure patient care does not suffer as changes are implemented.
"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."
Ritchie said she expects to know more about the plan next week.
According to the OMH release, downsizing of the facility will begin with the closure of an adult inpatient ward in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to a plan released this afternoon by the state Office of Mental Health.
St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center inpatient care will "merge" with the Empire Upstate Regional Center of Excellence, which will have facilities located in Utica and Syracuse.
In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the state will close five additional wards at SLPC.
According to the release, outpatient and community services currently operated by SLPC will be continued as a community hub of the Empire Upstate RCE, and will expand outpatient care in Ogdensburg and other hubs throughout the region.
The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center sexual offender program will continue in Ogdensburg but will be operated by the Central New York Forensic Center of Excellence.
For the past few months Ritchie has worked closely with a local task force opposing the closure of SLPC. She said more than 15,000 post cards were sent to the governor's office during the campaign.