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The waiting might be for a good reason

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The news Friday that the state Office of Mental Health has delayed the release of its plan to revamp its mental health services was probably hard to take for those waiting to hear whether the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center would close. Nobody wants to have to wait any longer to find out what’s going to happen.

But a couple of months more from the date OMH originally hoped to have a plan in place could make a world of difference for the better.

The delay appears to be a signal that OMH acting Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock is taking to heart the comments our community members and leaders made last month in support of keeping the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center a vibrant center for mental health care in the north country.

I have to admit I was wrong when I wrote in this column a couple of weeks ago that in all likelihood the state already knew what was going to happen to the psychiatric center and just hadn’t bothered to tell anyone.

In my defense, though, I’m not the only one who believed that. Mrs. Woodlock made it clear during the May 15 listening tour stop in Ogdensburg that she expected to have the state’s plan for the future of mental health wrapped up by May 20. That didn’t give anyone much hope that she was going to do more than politely let us talk about how valuable we think the center is to our region while knowing full well that its fate was already sealed.

I’m glad I was wrong.

Make no mistake, though. I don’t know any more than the next guy about what the state has in store for the psychiatric center. It could very well still end up on a closure list. Our officials must remain prepared to fight for its survival if necessary.

But this delay could very well mean that even if Mrs. Woodlock did go into the listening tour stop here with a plan ready to go, some of the things she heard here made her rethink that plan.

I don’t think OMH officials figured we would turn out in the numbers we did to support our psychiatric center. I don’t think they knew how closely our colleges and universities already work with the center and how willing they are to expand on those close relationships.

I don’t think they realized how much we care about the patients housed there and those trying to carry on productive lives in our communities. I don’t think they knew how much we care about the people who dedicate their lives to helping them, either as professionals or volunteers.

And when it gets right down to it, I don’t think they realized just how isolated we are from the rest of the state. That must have been a long drive from Albany. I hope they shuddered at the thought of making that trip in a snowstorm, and it made them think about the burden that would place on patients, their families and friends.

I’m glad I was wrong about how quickly OMH was going to have a plan in place, and I hope I’m right about the potential reasons for the delay.

Families of patients and workers at the psychiatric center have been on pins and needles waiting to hear what will happen, and it’s too bad that they will have to wait a little longer.

But the outcome could turn out to be worth the wait.

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