To The Editor:
To acting state Office of Mental Health Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock:
I am writing with regard to the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center located in Ogdensburg and serving a six-county catchment area in the north country of New York.
I am afraid, and it is not about jobs, though I do understand the need for jobs. The issue is people and need of the services the psych center provides.
Some years ago, before I came to be the Presbyterian minister in Ogdensburg, the state took the then-over 1,500 adult residential care center and turned it into a just-under-70 adult residential care center. Many of the residents from that time now live in the community. I talk to these people as they live and move among us. Many are sad, depressed, lost and/or feeling worthless. Many of the outpatient services have either gone by the wayside or do not serve as well as they might.
I have heard from folks suffering from mental illness about how wonderful it was to have someplace safe to live and work. The psych center was, in the early days, running a farm and serving the community. Later the center had a greenhouse, an outpatient geriatric center, among many other things. Perhaps most importantly, community people in crisis could be taken there to receive help.
People with mental illness could work at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in an environment that was equipped to help when the voices or breakdowns came. People living at the center could still work and be who they needed to be, unlike in the world beyond the center because the illness prevents them from being employable in other ways.
The residents of the psychiatric center were and are very much a part of the community and very much cared about by the community, and vice versa.
The six counties of the north country have very little to offer in the way of help for people suffering from mental illness. Because the psych center was all but shut down some time ago, people with mental illness in crisis in St. Lawrence County are taken to the Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg. There are very few doctors equipped to handle the mentally ill at the hospital, and there are very few beds for them. So as it is, we need more mental health care and services, not less! I encounter people who are wandering lost and at risk daily. In a time when we are looking at our country and its inability to deal with and help the mentally ill, and in a six-county catchment area where the mentally ill are already so very marginalized, it is shocking to me that the state is even contemplating reducing the available care for folks.
The Rev. Laurena Will
First Presbyterian Church