To The Editor:
To acting state Mental Health Commissioner Woodlock:
I am writing this letter to express my serious concerns over the possible closure of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg. As you are aware, the psychiatric center has served six counties in upstate New York for over 100 years.
As a school superintendent, I am fearful of a loss of services to the children and families of the north country that the center provides. Quite frankly, we are in need of more services, not less services. Currently it may take up to two months to get a child inpatient services due to significant waiting lists. Another important factor is the relative wealth of families who need these services. Many of them live below the poverty line and can simply not afford to travel to seek these much-needed services. My experience tells me that if it comes to feeding their children or providing them mental health services, they will choose the obvious.
While I am not totally informed of the structure of the proposed centers of excellence, I can tell you that the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center has been a center of excellence for over 100 years. Another important consideration regarding the viability of the center is simply a geographic one. One only has to look at a map of New York to see that closing this facility is a bad idea. One question: Why not make the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center one of your proposed centers of excellence? The center already has an excellent track record of serving clients and families and geographically it could serve the region north of Syracuse and Utica.
While I am not certain that OMH intends to close the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, as an advocate for children and families I must strongly oppose any reorganization of mental health services that include the closure of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. I hope you will come to understand what I have observed over my 28-year career as a school psychologist, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent of schools, and that is the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center provides much-neeed and essential services for the north country community.
Timothy M. Vernsey
Superintendent of Schools
Ogdensburg City School District