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St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will no longer provide inpatient services

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OGDENSBURG — Local and state officials say they are preparing to fight to maintain jobs and services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

Children and adult services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will be moved to other facilities under a three-year plan to revamp the state’s mental health system released today by the Office of Mental Health.

Adults formerly receiving treatment at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will be receiving treatment at Empire Upstate Regional Center of Excellence, Syracuse. Children will be receiving treatment at the Empire State Regional Center of Excellence in Utica.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will maintain its secure sex offender treatment program, to be operated under the Central New York Forensic Center of Excellence.

Community services are expected to expand at Ogdensburg, which will be designated a community service hub. An OMH spokesman could not immediate say what services would be provided in Ogdensburg.

OMH said in a news release that the plan will provide for continuity of employment for OMH workers, but it was unclear what staffing level the Ogdensburg facility will maintain. The center currently employs 520 people. Positions associated with inpatient care will be transitioned to community care positions. Inpatient positions that are maintained will be transferred to facilities that offer inpatient services. Employees will also be given the opportunity to transfer to vacant positions within the OMH system, and to vacancies in other state agencies.

Officials worry that means many workers will have to leave the area to maintain employment.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said the north country’s state lawmakers will need to work hard to mitigate the job losses in Ogdensburg.

“There are jobs not directly related to treatment that I’m very concerned about,” she said. “That’s why I will be advocating vigorously to try to retain the services that are currently at the psychiatric center.”

She said she also worries about families having to travel long distances to see loved ones who will remain in inpatient care, as well as what effect being far from home will have on patients.

“These few regional centers of excellence across the middle of the state are not sufficiently close to the populations that need them,” she said. “We should be maintaining the service levels there, if not expanding them. That will continue to be my push.”

The transitions is not expected to take place for two more state budget cycles, she said, which will hopefully give lawmakers enough time to undo potential job losses and service reductions.

“It’s not a win situation,” St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said. “They’re talking about expanding community care, which is wonderful, but that’s something they should have done 50 years ago, that they said they were going to do 50 years ago, and didn’t. The question is whether they will do it now.”

Mr. Kelly said the task force has requested a meeting with acting OMH Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock, and will meet tomorrow to figure out its next steps.

“We’re going to fight,” he said.

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