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Unions and Psych Center Task Force have close ties in fight to save inpatient services

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OGDENSBURG - The effort to keep adult and child inpatient services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center has been supported every step of the way by the center’s employee unions.

“I think the union is being very sagacious in the way they are handling this procedure,” City Manager John M. Pinkerton said. “They are being forward but not being disrespectful.”

The state Office of Mental Health has proposed moving adult inpatient services to Syracuse and child inpatient care to Utica.

The plan represents a shift to community-based care and would see Ogdensburg designated a community services hub. The secure sex offender treatment program would be maintained.

Officials and union leaders have worried that significant job losses will result if the plan is implemented in its current form.

As part of the proposal, OMH has promised not to institute layoffs, but Civil Service Employees Association local 423 President Ronnie D. Freeman said the promise isn’t very reassuring.

“They haven’t given us any framework for how they will keep us employed,” he said.

Mr. Freeman is worried that part of the plan may require people to move away from Ogdensburg in order to keep their job.

“We have a lot of people who have 20-plus years with the state who live here with their families,” he said. “There are families that are rooted here.”

CSEA has taken an active role in the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force that is actively opposing the OMH proposals.

“They have been very supportive of the task force and the task force mission which is to ensure we are able to care for our most vulnerable citizens,” Mr. Pinkerton, a task force member, said.

Part of that support has been to raise roughly $5,000 to buy T-shirts and lawn signs sporting a message to keep a full range of services at the psychiatric center.

“We’re giving them any type of community support they need,” Mr. Freeman said.

T-shirts and signs are available through the city manager’s office.

“They’re at every meeting and participating in everything we do,” task force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said.

CSEA and Public Employees Federation union members also walked along a float at last week’s Seaway Festival Parade that supported keeping inpatient services in Ogdensburg.

“We had a lot of people cheering and screaming,” Mr. Freeman said of the warm reception the float received during the parade.

In the coming weeks the task force will gather data on the exact composition of union members at the psychiatric center, their job description and the total payroll of the facility, Mr. Freeman said. Attempts to obtain the total payroll number from OMH have been unsuccessful.

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