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Sheriffs from six counties to gather in Ogdensburg and discuss plan to close psych center

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OGDENSBURG — The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force will host sheriffs from the six-county region served by the center on Thursday to discuss the services offered in Ogdensburg and the impact communities would feel if inpatient facilities were relocated.

The state Office of Mental Health has proposed sending mental health patients who require inpatient care to facilities farther south in an effort to consolidate services. The plan would also see the state relying more heavily on community-based mental health care.

Sheriffs from St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Franklin, Essex and Clinton counties will tour the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center on Thursday afternoon and then gather at the Dobisky Center at 5 p.m. to discuss the OMH plan.

Citing comments made by St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells at a public hearing in September, task force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said the plan will lead to a higher number of people behind bars who require psychiatric care.

“That’s a sad day when we’re making prisoners out of people who are sick,” Mr. Kelly said Tuesday.

Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton, a task force member, said OMH is sending two 12-person vans to facilitate the tour of the facility, and representatives from the state will be on hand. Mr. Pinkerton said, “We want the sheriffs to see the facility; what [patients] get for care. We want them to be able to express to the state what kind of burden this [plan] is going to be on them.”

The tour also may include some of the community-based mental health services in Ogdensburg, Mr. Pinkerton said.

“I think what the state wants to show is that there are community resources,” he said.

But Mr. Pinkerton said the task force, too, wants to showcase the community-based mental health care that is available because it will be evident that what is available is insufficient without inpatient services as well.

“I’m not saying [the community services in Ogdensburg are] bad, because they’re not – they’re good. But it’s not what someone who has a psychotic episode needs,” Mr. Pinkerton said.

In January, the task force hopes to host a similar meeting with the heads of the county legislatures from the six-county region that would focus on budgetary issues associated with the OMH plan, Mr. Pinkerton said.

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