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Postcard campaign aims to reinforce effort to save St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center

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OGDENSBURG — Members of a task force formed to prevent the closure of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center are hoping a barrage of postcards to state officials will forward their cause.

A total of 10,000 postcards sporting the phrase “Don’t shut out the lights on the north country” have been printed so far to be distributed to community members, officials and organizations. The cards, which require postage, are addressed to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state Office of Mental Health Acting Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock, and reinforce the points task force members have submitted to OMH: that the hospital has a 150-year history of caring, employs 550 people and is a vital part of the community. People are asked to sign their names and drop them in the mail.

“We are dropping them off with union people, at churches, with anybody we know,” City Manager John M. Pinkerton said Friday. “We are also going to send them to other counties.”

The aim of the postcards is to keep the message of the task force fresh in the minds of state officials as they develop a plan to revamp mental health services that will reduce the number of inpatient psychiatric hospital beds and rely more heavily on outpatient services. The plan is expected to be released July 8.

“With the clock ticking, it’s critical that we continue to send a strong message to Albany that the health-care and employment opportunities provided by the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center are vital to our region,” state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who provided the postcards, said in an emailed statement provided by her office Friday. “I’m encouraging those who haven’t sent a postcard to contact my Ogdensburg office to participate in this effort to help save the center.”

Sarah V. Compo, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Ritchie, said Mrs. Ritchie’s Senate printing budget foot the bill to print the postcards. Senators’ printing budgets can be used to pay for communications with constituents.

She was not sure about the exact cost of printing, but said it was “negligible.”

The cards can also be downloaded via Mrs. Ritchie’s website at www.ritchie.nysenate.gov and the site carrying the online petition to keep the center open, www.savethecenter.net.

“We want to keep our name out there,” Mr. Pinkerton said. “We want everybody to know how proud we are of what the folks at the psychiatric center do, how proud we are of our community, and that we want a decent opportunity to become a center of excellence.”

The state as part of its plan is looking to develop regional centers of excellence to oversee how mental health care is delivered and managed through partnerships with community organizations, hospitals and colleges. Task force members have urged OMH to consider St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center as a center of excellence site.

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