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Psych center’s loss will devastate

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To The Editor:

To acting state Office of Mental Health Commissioner Woodlock:

I am writing to you about the Office of Mental Health’s proposal to place a greater emphasis on outpatient treatment for the mentally ill and to reduce the state’s inpatient services. I recognize that the goal of OMH is to provide care for the mentally ill in community settings and to reduce the cost for such care through this proposal. To me, the most controversial aspect of the proposal is to close state-run psychiatric centers and replace them with “Centers of Excellence” to provide treatment and support for those in need of psychiatric care. I am concerned that the closure or the reduction of services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center would adversely affect the care for the mentally ill and would have adverse economic consequences on an area of the state that already faces great economic challenges.

I am aware that there has been a long trend in the mental health field to de-institutionalize, that is, to place mentally ill people in their home communities and offer support rather than placing them in institutions.I know that this has greatly reduced the number of inpatients at SLPC over the past several decades.Despite this trend and the significant decline in psychiatric inpatients, there remains a great need for psychiatric hospitals.

Specifically, SLPC is the only psychiatric hospital serving the north country. The area served by SLPC extends from the Vermont border, near Clinton County to the shores of Lake Ontario.Closure of SLPC would result in persons requiring inpatient psychiatric care being sent to Utica or Syracuse. Such placement at distant psychiatric hospitals would be in direct opposition of the goals stated in OMH’s proposal, which emphasizes the advantage of offering care for the mentally ill near their home communities.

The services of SLPC are very much needed in the north country. The SLPC and the mental health units of hospitals within its service area experience constantly high populations.It is my understanding that many of the mental health units in area hospitals have filed applications to expand the number of beds because demand for their services and the lack of vacancies at the SLPC necessitate such increase in the number of beds.Additionally, I know that concerns have been raised that the closure of state hospitals will overload the local communities’ ability to care for the mentally ill.I have read stories that a number of county sheriffs are concerned that their jails are often filled with mentally ill people who, lacking proper treatment, run into trouble and get arrested even though they are not hardened criminals.Many state that large numbers of people in their county jails really do not belong there but should be receiving care in psychiatric hospitals.

SLPC offers three residential programs for the six counties within its service area: adult services, sex offender treatment program, and children and youth services. The facilities at SLPC are state of the art and offer the full gamut of diagnostic evaluation, testing, counseling, education, socialization, and therapy for a wide diversity of patients.If SLPC were to close, those patients currently requiring this level of treatment would have to be sent to distant centers for the provision of these comprehensive services.

SLPC has a long history of providing exceptional care for the mentally ill, and has the facilities and the resources required for quality care.The population of SLPC and its related mental health units substantiate the need for the services of SLPC in our north country.Accordingly, I ask you to recognize the real need for SLPC in the north country and to acknowledge the quality and effective care that has been given by its personnel.

Lastly, the economic impact of the closure of SLPC would be devastating to a portion of the state that already has staggering levels of unemployment and poverty. SLPC has been a win-win situation for the patients who need quality psychiatric care and for the community that has a work force qualified to provide such care.

I ask you to please consider all of the foregoing factors that compel the continued operation of SLPC. There is a great need for the services offered by SLPC. SLPC has a long history of providing exceptional care for the mentally ill. Its closure would leave a void in these much needed services. SLPC has the facilities and work force that enable it to house three badly needed residential programs. I urge you not to even consider closing this much needed and well respected facility. Thank you for considering my thoughts in this critical issue.

The Most Rev. Terry R. LaValley, DD, JCL

Bishop

Diocese of Ogdensburg

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