Health Related

New plan would save St. Lawrence inpatient

By: SUZANNE MOORE, News Editor

OGDENSBURG — State officials propose St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s inpatient program stay open, and, in fact, a specialized, state-of-the-art Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence be established there.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the revised plan from the State Office of Mental Health (OMH) on Thursday afternoon.

St. Lawrence is the only long-term inpatient psychiatric treatment facility in the North Country, and many had protested the state’s original plan, which would have shut down those beds.

The new plan, the governor said, “was developed in response to significant input from stakeholders in the community and maintains the operation of essential beds and programs while also providing new or expanded services where they are needed most. 

“I commend the many families, community advocates and mental-health professionals who came together, brought the facts to the table and worked with the state on this issue in order to best meet the needs of the North Country.”

BEDS WOULD REMAIN

St. Lawrence would retain its 68 beds under the revised plan, 48 of which are for adults and 20 for children and adolescents, according to a media release from the Governor’s Office. 

The facility would continue running essential programs, including the children’s clinic and day-treatment program, the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act program, the OASAS Alcohol Treatment Center, Northwoods Residential and state community programs located off campus.

The original plan, announced in August, called for the elimination of all inpatient beds.

It said the St. Lawrence Adult Inpatient Unit would be transferred to regional centers in Syracuse or Albany, and the Children’s and Adolescent Inpatient Unit would moved to a regional center in Utica.

Then, officials said, shuttering those units in Ogdensburg would save the state $20 million over a three-year transition period, which was slated to begin in July 2014.

CHILDREN’S CENTER

Further implementation of the Regional Centers of Excellence plan, the Governor’s Office said, won’t take place until after OMH consults “with the community and mental-health advocates to evaluate the effectiveness of the expanded community services on the need for inpatient beds.”

But the OMH initiative announced Thursday proposes establishment of 50 community residential beds in addition to those that exist now. 

One adult ward would be eliminated, it says, providing $3 million in savings to reinvest in the yet-to-be-established Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence.

That facility would include: 

▶ 28 beds.

▶ Increased clinic capacity and access in targeted communities.

▶ An expanded day-treatment program that would increase the number of existing classrooms.

▶ A new Mobile Integration Team to respond to calls from schools, families and pediatric services to provide assessment, consultation, first-line treatment and linkages to services. 

▶ Expanded tele-psychiatry to improve access in rural settings and provide comprehensive assessments to facilitate connection to the most appropriate level of care (such as forensic/violence assessments, juvenile sex offender evaluation, psychological assessment for educational services).

▶ Evidenced-based treatment services at all sites, including dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive behavior therapy and multi-systemic therapy, along with state-of-the-art family-based interventions to improve outcomes and increase youth’s resiliency.

MOBILE CRISIS AND SUPPORT

As well, the reinvestment of that $3 million would provide new adult community-based services and programs that would include:

▶ Expanded Mobile Crisis and Support capacity with first-episode psychosis and peer-support capacity to provide assessment, consultation, first-line treatment and linkages to services. That team would also provide case-management-like services to people “struggling to maintain community tenure.”

▶ Increased clinic capacity and access in targeted counties.

▶ A new community mental-health forensic program to develop and manage pretrial release plans for seriously mentally ill persons entering jails in the North Country.

▶ Expand tele-psychiatry to improve access in rural settings.

▶ Expand community access to the 24-bed Northwoods residential program for community hospitals to use as step-down units.

CONGRESSMAN SUPPORTED PLAN

North Country Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) said keeping the facility open is the best possible outcome.

“This announcement means my constituents will still be able to access vital mental-health services close to home and will sustain about 500 jobs,” Owens said in a statement.

He sent a letter to the governor last summer outlining the need to keep the facility open.

He noted that of the 24 mental-health facilities in the state, 23 of them were south of the New York State Thruway, and St. Lawrence was the only one in the North Country.

“This creates a number of issues, not the least of which is the fact that the absence of nearby facilities reduces access to health care for our constituents and creates undue economic hardships for patients, their families and hospitals in the region when seeking treatment,” Owens wrote to the governor last summer.

“In addition, the direct loss of 500 jobs plus the residual jobs lost throughout the region’s economy would have an enormous negative consequence for communities already struggling economically.”

— Staff Writer Joe LoTemplio contributed to this story.

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