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Clarkson professor says OMH plan to close inpatient care at the Psychiatric Center makes no sense

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POTSDAM - Illona Gillette-Ferguson is speaking out against the plan by the state Office of Mental Health to relocate inpatient care services from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center to Utica and Syracuse as a scientist.

An assistant professor of Biology at Clarkson University, Ms. Gillette-Ferguson said she tries “to approach the issues not personally but scientifically. It makes absolutely no sense. It’s not going to save the state money. It’s not going to help give better mental health care.”

Earlier this year the OMH proposed sending child inpatient services to Utica and adult services to Syracuse.

Citing literature distributed by the OMH, Ms. Gillette-Ferguson said the proposal appears to have been created in order to fall in line with psychiatric treatment systems like those in California and Texas, where there are far fewer state operated hospitals.

“I believe they’re trying to single out those states because they’ve gone to lower number of institutions,” she said. “It’s a very backwards thing.”

Pointing to a 2009 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, titled “The State of Public Mental Health Services Across the Nation,” Ms. Gillette-Ferguson said Texas received a “D” grade and California received a “C.”

“New York was one of six states that reserved a ‘B,’” Ms. Gillette-Ferguson said. “The states that OMH likes to compare us to received grades lower than us.”

Ms. Gillette-Ferguson said she can’t see the logic in the proposal by the OMH.

“You don’t study for a test to get an ‘A’ if you have a ‘B’ with a student who got a ‘D,’” she said.

Ms. Gillette-Ferguson, who also spoke at the Sept. 17 public hearing held by the state Senate and Assembly at the Ogdensburg City Hall, said the plan would not only emulate inferior psychiatric care programs but would leave residents of the north country stranded.

“We need these mental health services,” she said. “We can’t have this whole entire area north of the thruway without mental health services.”

Ms. Gillette-Ferguson, who moved to the north country to teach at the college level in 2006, said the plan from the OMH could also prove to be a barrier that prevents professionals from moving to the region.

As services leave the region, people may feel less confident about bringing their families to the area in the event that psychiatric care is needed, she said.

If the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center loses inpatient services Ms. Gillette-Ferguson fears it would only be a matter of time before other forms of care were taken away as well.

Ms. Gillette-Ferguson said the current plan would likely see many of the more than 500 jobs at the psychiatric center relocated to a smaller, out-patient center.

“Then they can cut 10 jobs at a time,” she said. “No one is going to jump up and down for 10 jobs. It’s going to be very easy for you to close that one and close this one as opposed to closing a facility that has 500 jobs. This is the time to act. Once they break it up into all those little facilities, it will be very easy to get rid of them. We won’t notice it until 10 years down the road.”

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