By JIMMY LAWTON
OGDENSBURG – Sen. Patricia Ritchie and psychiatric center advocate Chuck Kelly are hoping momentum from the recent public hearings will carry over into state budget negotiations.
The hearing, which drew more than a hundred people Wednesday, offered the public a chance to share the significance of Ogdensburg's state mental facility in the wake of proposed changes that would end inpatient care for adults and children.
St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force Chairman Kelly said the state officials who heard the testimonials were given copies to share with their colleagues in the Senate and Assembly. Kelly said he is hopeful that St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will become part of budget negotiations.
"Sometime this plan has to go before the Senate and Assembly for budget purposes. Hopefully when that time comes the Governor will listen to what we are saying," he said.
Kelly said he believes David Carlucci, who chairs the Senate mental health committee, and Aileen Gunther, who chairs the Assembly mental health committee, were moved by the meeting.
"I think they learned a lot about the importance of the psych center up here," he said.
Sen. Ritchie, who helped organize the meeting along with Assemblywoman Addie Russell and other colleagues, said the eight-hour meeting was successful in illustrating the need for the state hospital in the North Country.
She urged supporters to be “vigilant” and continue to send their message to Albany.
“I think people need to continue to stay out in full force and keep the fight going,” she said. “For me personally I think this will come down to a budget fight.”
Ritchie said she believed the issue is much larger than St. Lawrence County and believes her colleagues will be interested in discussing the merits of the Office of Mental Health strategic plan.
Kelly said the event began at 10 a.m. and was scheduled to last until 2 p.m., but continued until 6 p.m.
"I was very pleased at the response. We had people from all over the North Country and some from downstate who spoke," he said. "We had people from colleges, we had doctors and employees of the hospital. We even had a patient offer a testimonial."
Kelly said the number of speakers vastly exceeded any of the other hearings that had been held throughout the state, but he was unsure of the exact figures.
"I think the TV station reported that we had four times as many, but I don't have the numbers," he said.
Kelly said the majority of the speakers discussed the lack of mental care providers for the rural areas of New York that are north of the Thruway.
"Jobs are important, but its really about treating patients," he said.