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State budget mental health allocation to north country seeks to foster local model of care

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The 2014-15 state budget contains up to $44 million to start shifting the focus of mental health care away from inpatient facilities and toward outpatient care, about $3.85 million of which could be on its way to the north country.

The budget allocates a baseline of $25 million for community health care initiatives. The remaining $19 million will be released as beds are closed at mental health care centers across the state. For every bed closed, $110,000 will be added to the fund until the $44 million mark is reached, and more than 300 beds are slated for closure this year.

“We’ve fought hard for this money. It would be nice if there would be a lot more of it, but it’s nice that it’s there,” said Glenn D. Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association of New York state.

This is part of an ongoing national trend away from mental health care centralized at large institutions, and toward care that focuses on keeping patients in the community, he said.

“I believe, and most of the advocates we work with believe, that it is a positive step,” he said. “Nobody seeks to be hospitalized.”

According to an announcement from state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, the $3.85 million allocated to the north country will provide care for 270 more residents in the region. The news release did not say over how large a geographic area the money will be spread.

It is not yet known how the money will be divided or spent, according to Jefferson County Community Services Director Roger J. Ambrose.

“We haven’t been given any formula,” he said.

There always will be a need for inpatient services, according to Mr. Ambrose, but he said he supports the move toward caring for people in the community wherever possible.

“I think moving toward more outpatient services gives us the opportunity to keep people out of these institutions at some level,” he said.

His office is crafting a proposal to the state on how it plans to improve its outpatient care.

According to Mr. Liebman, the money will have to focus on creating housing for patients. In addition, crisis response teams will have to be hired and employment and educational programs will have to be created.

“You’re talking about a process of recovery,” he said.

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