To The Editor:
The state Office of Mental Health recently announced that adult in-patient services would begin the process of being relocated to the Empire Upstate Regional Office of Excellence in Syracuse next year and children in-patient services would be relocated to Utica starting in 2015.
As a result, we as a region will be forced to refer family members to Syracuse or Utica for in¬patient treatment of mental illness. The Office of Mental Healths in-patience services, which are currently available right here in the north country, will soon only be available outside of this area. The impact on our local families who need to access to this care, and will now have to travel so far away, will be tremendously negative. For example, a parent who wishes to visit with a hospitalized child, which is clearly important in the mental health care process, will have to find some way to get to Utica, and to pay for the trip and any associated costs, every time they go to see their child. Even for those who could afford it, the sheer distance will be difficult to overcome for parents who work or have to care for other children and family members.
Additionally, over 500 employees will potentially be affected by this plan. Many will have to move out of our area if they want to retain their jobs. The loss of such a substantial payroll and an exodus of so many people would greatly increase the economic troubles in our region. The lost jobs, benefits, purchasing power and accompanying trickle-down effect on the local economy will profoundly impact local schools, retail and service businesses, healthcare facilities and virtually every sector of our economy.
In addition to the hardships of travel and the loss of jobs, it is believed that a reduction in inpatient care services in our area will result in increased pressures on our local police forces, sheriffs department, and correctional facilities. Incidents of our local law enforcement officers dealing with people with mental health issues continue to rise and there are well-documented reports of the number of incarcerated individuals receiving medications for mental health issues. Removing key mental health services from our area will result in more stress and costs on our communities already overburdened local law enforcement and correctional services.
The Office of Mental Healths plan to close the inpatient wards at the St. Lawrence Psychiallic Center has been opposed by many people, organizations, and communities throughout the north country. I encourage everyone to continue to speak out against this plan and to work to have inpatient service wards restored at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.
St. Lawrence County legislator, District 5