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Transportation tops mental health needs for the team developing a post-inpatient care plan

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Access to transportation and cultural sensitivity were the top mental health care needs in Central New York highlighted in recommendations given to the state Office of Mental Health Dec. 12.

The recommendations, made by the Central New York Regional Centers of Excellence Team, are part of a broader effort by the OMH to figure out the best way to transition away from inpatient mental health care.

OMH has proposed closing inpatient beds across the state, including at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Ogdensburg, concentrating inpatient facilities at Regional Centers of Excellence while focusing on expanded community-based care. Inpatient capacity in Ogdensburg will be transferred to hospitals in Syracuse and Utica, and the psychiatric center will become part of the Central New York Regional Center of Excellence.

The Central New York RCE Team encompasses an area stretching from the Pennsylvanian border to the St. Lawrence River and from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain.

The team noted in its recommendations report that the region encompasses just under half of the state’s total land mass.

“It is vital that transportation be addressed because if it is not, all efforts of hospital diversion and enhanced community services will be undermined,” the report states.

The recommendation also noted that mental health care needs to be culturally sensitive to people coming from diverse backgrounds to ensure everyone be given equal access.

“Central New York” includes Native American, immigrant, refugee, urban and rural populations of different ethnic and economic backgrounds with different needs and social pressures, the recommendations note.

“Knowledge about cultural groups can address challenges such as barriers to seeking care, the cultural stigma of receiving care, living with mental illness in cultural communities and considering recovery outcomes that are desired within cultural contexts,” the report said.

The report listed 14 recommendations in total, including bolstering school-based mental health care, increasing community outreach, improving employment and housing assistance and increasing use of tele-psychiatry.

Following an RCE Steering Committee meeting Dec. 12, acting OMH Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan asked for each of the five regional committees to compile just the top five biggest needs they had identified.

These top five recommendations are due back to Mrs. Sullivan by the end of the month and will be used to help OMH determine funding priorities for 2014.

With committees representing vastly divergent parts of the state, Mrs. Sullivan told team members she understands the process is “complicated” but asked that the “low-hanging fruit” be identified in order to make the transition to community-based mental health care as smooth as possible.

Triaging the top concerns in each area is crucial, Mrs. Sullivan said, so that funding can be secured in time for the first wave of closures next year.

“We need to begin to have a financial plan,” she told committee members.

The OMH plan calls for the closure of one adult inpatient ward at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in fiscal year 2014-2015 with the rest of the inpatient beds removed by 2017.

Outpatient operations and the sex-offender treatment program will be preserved in Ogdensburg, according to the plan.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force, a volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining inpatient mental health care in Ogdensburg, met with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Dec. 10 in an attempt to get him to reverse the planned closure of the facility.

Mr. Cuomo said he would have recommendations within a week.

Task force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said his group has not heard from the governor since the meeting, but expects that he will make a series of recommendations soon.

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