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Psych Center task force formed

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Mayor William D. Nelson has convened a task force of community leaders and citizens to drive support for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in response to fears that the state may close the 123-year-old facility.

The task force will promote the center as a Regional Center of Excellence, a concept created by the state Office of Mental Health that is still in a stage of being defined.

The centers “could be an integrated health network, providing the most advanced diagnostics, treatment, and support services available for adults with serious mental illness or children with serious emotional disturbances and their families,” according to the office’s website, www.omh.ny.gov.

The task force is made up of Mr. Nelson, St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly, County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire, City Manager John M. Pinkerton, County Community Services Director Angela Doe and will be led by Charles W. Kelly, Ogdensburg.

Charles Kelly said the goal of the task force is to highlight the excellent care the psychiatric center has provided over its 123-year history.

“If they do develop a center of excellence, we want them to do it here,” he said. “The bottom line here is that these patients have been given good care here for the money the state spends. We want to put our best foot forward, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Mr. Kelly said it’s important to emphasize to state officials that the psychiatric center has the community’s support.

“We are trying to sell the community in a positive way and make them take a good, hard look at that,” he said.

That promotion of the psychiatric center is being pushed for a “listening tour” held by OMH in Ogdensburg on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to provide information on its plan to improve care for the mentally ill. The OMH announced Thursday that there were so many signed up to speak that an extra hour has been added to the meeting.

Part of the plan, which has been outlined conceptually but has not spelled out what it means for each state-run psychiatric center, has been to reduce reliance on inpatient care and provide more community-based support for the mentally ill.

The OMH meeting will be held at the Unity Center on the psychiatric center campus.

OMH spokesman Benjamin Rosen said the office is trying to get input from communities on what the future of behavioral health services should be in the state.

“This is the first part of the journey toward eventually reshaping the system in a way that better serves New Yorkers,” Mr. Rosen said. “There is no specific plan right now as to what they are going to be or what they are going to look like, which is why were are going around the state.”

The concept of a Regional Center of Excellence is basically bringing a holistic approach to the provision of behavioral health services, Mr. Rosen said.

Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton said the task force wants to make sure its message gets out to state officials.

“So we hope to present information and a booklet, both economically and supportively and caringly for the people that are already engaged,” Mr. Pinkerton said.

He said he believes the center is well positioned to become a Regional Center of Excellence.

“We think that since this community and this psych center have embraced the changes that the state has brought forward,” Mr. Pinkerton said. “We have a whole continuum of care that supports these people that has been developed over years and years.”

Additionally, the potential for the loss of 520 jobs could have a devastating effect on the surrounding region if the center were to close, Patrick Kelly added.

“The negative impact would be significant,” he said. “An employer of that size, offering those kinds of services and that variety of occupations isn’t just important in the local community, it has a regional impact.”

The north country is a vast, rural area, Patrick Kelly said, and access to transportation is difficult for most.

“So having a center of excellence in the area, where people can best get to it and where it can provide services in whatever new delivery structure OMH moves toward, is a necessity,” he said.

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