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Attend Wednesday’s psych center meeting

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To The Editor:

My grandfather used to be head chef at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, way back when the patients, some 2,000, farmed the fields surrounding the hospital. I remember his stories. I remember him talking about the times a patient would show up at the back door of his home near Kirbo’s Creek. He’d bring the patient back to the hospital after asking if he or she would like something to eat.

Two of my uncles worked in the boiler room at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

My father was a funeral director. He buried patients who died at the hospital in a nearby cemetery. There were no headstones; just markers in the ground with numbers on them. That always bothered my father.

Like so many other families in the north country, my family has been involved with caring for the mentally ill over the years. When my son was stricken with a brain disease it became personal. It was my son in need of treatment.

So much has changed in the care for those suffering from a mental illness. Programs have been cut as more patients have been released; many ending up roaming the streets. Follow-up sometimes gets lost in the cracks.Quality, safe housing is lacking.Valuable work programs have closed.I realize it all gets down to money.Cutting services saves money, but does it really? It seems to me that if you invest in valuable work programs, vital follow-up, guidance and decent housing that in the end you save. You’ve invested instead of neglected.

When I hear the latest catch phrase — Regional Centers of Excellence — I cringe. And so should you. As an appointed member to the Board of Visitors at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center and as a mother of a son suffering with a mental illness, I urge you to attend the upcoming state Office of Mental Health Listening Tour Wednesday on the grounds of the psychiatric center.

We can’t afford to lose the jobs that remain, both at the clinics and the hospital. We have to stand together for the mentally ill: the most vulnerable in our society.

I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, wondering what he would have thought about shipping patients off somewhere hours away. I’m certain I know the answer.

Barbara Briggs Ward

Member

Board of Visitors

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center

Ogdensburg

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