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Massena police chief joins fight to save St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center

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MASSENA — In a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier encourages him to reconsider eliminating inpatient services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Ogdensburg.

Mr. Currier said that with the number of incidents related to mental health issues on the rise, now is not the time to be cutting these services.

“We’re continuing to see increases in mental health incidents,” he said. “How is the closing of inpatient services at the facility going to impact patients? I’m really concerned.”

Releasing data that date back to 1993, Mr. Currier wrote in his letter that from 1993 to 1997, the village responded to, on average, 16.4 incidents per year involving people with mental health issues.

From 1998 to 2002, that number rose to 23 per year, with the number nearly doubling to 43.4 incidents per year from 2003 to 2007.

The steady increase continued from 2008 to 2011, when the average increased to 62.5 incidents. Last year alone, Mr. Currier said, his department responded to 84 such calls.

Halfway through this year, his department is on pace to respond to nearly 100 such calls, with 46 mental health incidents reported through June.

“I applaud your efforts to revamp the mental health system in New York state,” he wrote. “As a 25-year veteran in law enforcement, where nearly 20 of those years have been spent serving my community as Chief of Police, I can tell you the amount of time and effort my agency has spent dealing with mental health incidents has steadily increased.”

“If we see a decrease in services provided, that will cripple us,” he said, adding Massena isn’t the only place seeing an increase in mental health cases. “I’ve spoken with colleagues all over the state and we are all seeing an increase in these types of incidents.”

Many of the incidents involve emergency pickup orders. Mr. Currier said responding to a pickup order is very time consuming and takes his people off the streets, where they are needed, to transport a patient to a hospital with mental health facilities for treatment.

“A pickup order takes us several hours to complete where we ultimately transport the individual to Ogdensburg,” he wrote. “If the closing of an inpatient 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.”

The citizens of Massena and his officers wouldn’t be the only ones losing out, he said.

“I cannot imagine asking family members of someone requiring inpatient care for mental illness being required to drive to Utica, New York or elsewhere to visit and support their loved ones while in treatment,” he wrote.

In addition, Mr. Currier said he’s worried about the people employed at the center.

“These are wonderful people who do great work with what very few resources they have,” he said. “I’m very concerned.”

And should those people lose their jobs, the entire region would be negatively affected.

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

In his letter, Mr. Currier noted that Massena has seen a 232 percent increase in “Type 1” offenses since 1998.

“We have been dealing with a prescription misuse epidemic and currently have a heroin issue on our streets,” he wrote. “The reality is that oftentimes a connection can be made between mental health and criminal offenses.”

In closing, Mr. Currier wrote that what the area really needs is an increase in mental health services, not a reduction.

“The hard truth about Northern New York is, that although we feel we live in the most beautiful area of the state, we have the least amount of resources; less access to services than other areas of the state and we have less impact upon decisions that affect our future,” he wrote. “You can change that Governor and I strongly urge you to consider keeping the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center facility open. The answer for Northern New York is not less mental health services, but more.”

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