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Psyched up

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Few forces can match the momentum of growing community support for a worthy cause.

People in Ogdensburg hope to demonstrate this and preserve a vital public institution. They oppose the decision made earlier this year by the New York State Office of Mental Health to eliminate local inpatient mental health services. And now their sentiments on the issue are much more visible.

The OMH announced in July that adult inpatient services at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center would be relocated to the Empire Upstate Regional Office of Excellence in Syracuse beginning next year. In addition, inpatient services for children and youths would be moved to the Empire State Regional Center of Excellence in Utica starting in 2015.

The only services left at the Ogdensburg facility will be its outpatient and secure sex offender treatment programs. As the only OMH psychiatric facility north of the Thruway communities, people throughout the north country believe this move will have severe consequences.

State officials have said they plan to rely more on community support services to supplement the loss of the inpatient programs at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. But it’s obvious that many people don’t believe this arrangement would be sufficient for the needs of those who use the center.

Some people have embarked on a campaign to show how popular the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center is in this region. They are sporting lime green T-shirts and putting lawn sides in their front yards calling for support of the local facility.

Coralee Barrett, administrative secretary to Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson and City Manager John M. Pinkerton, told the Watertown Daily Times this week that more than 700 T-shirts have been sold and more than 700 signs have been put up. She also said that 13 local businesses have purchased T-shirts and have taken photographs of staff members wearing them.

Arne’s Custom Printing in Gouverneur has been creating the T-shirts, and they have been selling for $10 each, Mrs. Barrett said. About $3,600 has been raised so far through this campaign to show OMH officials the extent of support for the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, she said.

The lawn signs were printed at Arne’s Custom Printing in Gouverneur as well as Stubbs Printing in Massena; they are being given away for free. Members of the local chapters of the state Public Employees Federation and the Civil Service Employees Association have absorbed the costs of the signs.

Much of the credit for this show of solidarity goes to the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force. This group is determined to save the inpatient services at the center and is making a full-court press.

A major goal, Mrs. Barrett said, is to have this campaign spread beyond Ogdensburg. In addition to St. Lawrence County, the psychiatric center serves clients in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson and Lewis counties, she said.

“People are assuming this is a city of Ogdensburg thing, and it’s not,” she told the Times. “The outlying communities are most welcome to call and be part of the support system.”

Mrs. Barrett is correct. We all have a stake in how the state decides to deliver essential mental health services in the north country, and we all must be involved in keeping as many programs based in our communities as possible.

People who would like to buy a T-shirt or pick up a sign may call Mrs. Barrett at 315-393-6100. They also may stop by the Ogdensburg City Hall on Ford Street. Join a movement working to ensure that state officials know people in the north country have a voice and will use it when necessary.

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