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Massena police chief urges state to revisit plan to end inpatient care at psych center

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To The Editor:

To Governor Andrew M. Cuomo:

I am contacting you to encourage you to reconsider the decision to eliminate inpatient services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Facility.

I applaud your efforts to revamp the mental health system in New York State. As a 25-year veteran in law enforcement, where nearly twenty of those years have been spent serving my community as chief of police, I can tell you that the amount of time and effort my agency has spent dealing with mentally ill people and mental health incidents has steadily increased.

Mental health incidents in Massena: 1993-1997 averaged 16.4 per year; 1998-2002 averaged 23.0 per year; 2003-2007 averaged 43.4 per year; 2008-2011 averaged 62.5 per year; 2012 saw 84 mental health incidents; From January to June 2013, 46 mental health incidents.

Suicide rates in St. Lawrence County have nearly tripled since 2007.

Our community has faced a 232 percent increase in our type 1 criminal offenses since 1998. We have been dealing with a prescription drug misuse epidemic and currently have a heroin issue on our streets. The reality is that often times a connection can be made between mental health and criminal offenses.

A great portion of our mental health incidents involve emergency pickup orders issued by the director of mental health under Section 9.41 of the state Mental Hygiene Law. A pickup order takes us several hours to complete where we ultimately transport the individual to Ogdensburg. If the closing of an impatient facility impacts this practice and requires us to transport the subject a greater distance, my agency will be unable to fulfill its statutory requirement without a significant local cost to our citizens.

Since you visited our area twice in the last month, first the Adirondacks in July and Waddington last week, I know you know first hand how remote this area of the state can be.

I cannot imagine asking family members of someone requiring inpatient care for mental illness being required to drive to Utica or elsewhere to visit and support their loved one while in treatment.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t speak to the economic impact a closure of the facility would mean to our region. I know that you are aware that St. Lawrence County ranks near the bottom in this state with regard to economic growth.

Anytime I see the loss of jobs, I worry that will impact our crime rates. Economic strength helps make communities more safe. Job losses, increases in poverty and economic instability makes communities less safe.

The hard truth about Northern New York is that although we feel we live in most beautiful area of the state, we have the least amount of resources; less access to services than other area of the state and we have less impact upon decisions that affect our future.

You can change that, Governor, and I strongly urge you to consider keeping the St. Lawrence Psychiatric facility open. The answer for Northern New York is not less mental health services but more.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this letter and your consideration. I am more than willing to discuss this with you or a member of your staff.

Timmy J. Currier

Chief of Police

Massena Police Department

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