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From last week’s headlines:

DELIVERING a MESSAGE TO THE STATE

Members of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force will head to Albany Tuesday to meet with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s staff about the state Office of Mental Health’s plan to remove inpatient services from the psychiatric center in Ogdensburg.

Task force members’ message needs to be very clear: Preserve inpatient psychiatric care in the north country.

Reporter Sean Ewart and I have written extensively on the state’s plan. We’ve talked to medical doctors and one of the nation’s top psychiatrists, psychiatric center employees, patients’ families, former patients, school officials, governmental officials, mental health advocates and human services agencies. All told, we have talked to dozens of people about this issue. Out of all of them, only one person has spoken in favor of this plan.

That person, New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services Executive Director Harvey Rosenthal, has close ties to OMH as a member of the state’s Medicaid Redesign Team and the state’s Regional Centers of Excellence Steering Committee. Mr. Rosenthal called me to request an interview after an OMH official told me off the record that he thought we were being unfair to the state, and I told that official I would be happy to speak to one of OMH’s experts on psychiatric care.

Mr. Rosenthal was also the only person to speak in favor of the state’s plan at the OMH listening tour stop in Ogdensburg last May. Not surprisingly, OMH officials placed him first on the list to speak.

That he is the only person not opposing the downsizing of inpatient capacity is telling. Nobody else we’ve talked to — regardless to how buddy-buddy they are with OMH — thinks it will improve psychiatric care, and literally scores of people we haven’t gotten a chance to interview have written letters to us, OMH and Mr. Cuomo begging the state to abandon its plan.

With so many people with so many different backgrounds condemning the removal of inpatient psychiatric services, it’s amazing that the state is still backing a proposal that will force adults and children to go hundreds of miles away from home if they are hospitalized.

State officials obviously don’t get the message. I hope task force members are able to make sure they get it in person.

THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BED POLICE

I have been fascinated by the St. Lawrence County Legislature’s discussion concerning bed tax collection from overnight lodging businesses. Collection of the 3 percent tax on those purchasing hotel, motel and bed and breakfast rooms and campers has until now been strictly on the honor system, and now the cash-strapped county suspects that not everybody is paying up.

The solution? Have the county Chamber of Commerce help enforce collection among lodging businesses who might not be remitting their fair share. Plus, the Chamber gets a 2 percent bump in county funding each year for doing so.

There are a couple of interesting aspects to this proposed solution. Firstly, and maybe I’m just poorly educated on the subject despite my research, I can find no evidence of another such relationship between a governmental and a nongovernmental entity. As a friend analogized earlier this week, it’s like a community organization offering to help the police ticket motorists speeding by their building in exchange for a cut of the revenue from fines.

Secondly, I fail to see how bed tax collection enforcement falls within the Chamber’s mission as the county’s official tourism agency. They should be helping lodging businesses attract more visitors, not beating them up for their lunch money.

It will be interesting to see whether the Chamber Board of Directors thinks it’s a good idea. I have a feeling that the Chamber’s member lodging agencies aren’t crazy about it.

I have long believed that the Chamber should receive a portion of the county’s bed tax to pay for tourism promotion, but it shouldn’t have to become the bed police to get it. The Chamber could play a role in educating applicable businesses about the tax, but that’s where its role should end. Let the county conduct its own tax enforcement.

HELP THE NEEDY

With the holiday season upon us, charitable organizations are in great need to help the less fortunate. Please consider adding your community’s food pantry, Salvation Army, St. Vincent dePaul Society or Catholic Charities to your list of those to get gifts this season. There are also community organizations like the Heuvelton Giving Tree, PJs 4 XMas, the Lisbon Lights on the River group and St. Lawrence County Toys for Tots who need your help to make the holiday a little brighter for those who are struggling to provide for their families. They are all worthy of your help and support, and you will feel good knowing you put a smile on somebody’s face this Christmas.

After Christmas, the need will be just as great. So please don’t forget about these agencies once the tree is on the curb and the stockings are put away for another year. Our community’s charitable organizations count on you to help them fulfill their missions.

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