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Center of excellence

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To The Editor:

For over a century, a group of dedicated health care professionals in Northern New York have been caring for upstate’s most vulnerable citizens at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

Today, with the Empire State facing tough financial times, Albany is looking to reduce care for the mentally ill by shutting down some of its mental health care facilities and choosing a few psychiatric hospitals to serve as “centers of excellence.”

Those of us who have been fighting for the mentally ill throughout our careers see this as a golden opportunity for the state to improve the services provided to those who often have nowhere else to turn for help.

As mental health professionals from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario will testify, the outstanding professional staff at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center have been pioneers in developing cutting-edge behavioral health care for the rural areas of our great Empire State.

At a time when the state is struggling to find ways to do more with less, New York needs to make use of the talent and innovative methods developed at the north country’s premier mental health care program to improve the quality of care provided across upstate rural areas.

Any objective observer of New York’s mental health care system quickly notices that most of our state resources are spent on costly urban facilities in major metropolitan areas like New York, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Rochester.

Few of the state’s mental health institutions have devoted their full attention to developing ways to serve and improve behavioral health care for our state’s underserved upstate rural areas, even though a large percentage of our state’s residents live outside the metropolitan areas.

Rural communities across upstate need to join together in supporting the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center to ensure that at least one group of mental health professionals, and one of the state’s centers of excellence, continues focusing its full attention on ways to serve impoverished areas of the state that have no access to mass transit, few health care providers, vast distances and even fewer mental health care professionals.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s staff has a long track record of serving the citizens of our state’s remote Adirondack communities, whose residents are often forgotten, and their unique needs are seldom understood by urban health care professionals.

It’s true, New York needs to develop centers of excellence. But at least one of those centers needs to focus on the unique needs of our state’s already underserved rural populations.

Chuck Kelly

Retired Publisher and Editor

St. Lawrence County Newspapers

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