Mental health funding and fears in O’burg, Watertown


Hello! As the bombings in Boston earlier this week continue to be investigated (and everyone I know from home makes the best of being locked down), life goes on in the North Country. Many of us have friends and relatives in Boston, and apart from keeping in touch with them we’re spending even more time than usual obsessively monitoring news sources (a friend in Boston, I’m told, has access to a police scanner and is really keeping up with events, and I just found out my husband has also tuned into the scanner from home.)

With the Boston events amply and better covered by NPR than I can do here, I’d like to turn now to something that I didn’t get a chance to write about earlier this week when I saw it in the paper.

The Watertown Daily Times reported Tuesday about ongoing concerns that changes to the state mental health system could mean the closure of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. This after the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) announced on Thursday, April 11, that the Ogdensburg facility would be one of the ones the OMH will visit on its upcoming “listening tour” to let communities know “about our vision and help shape the future.”

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center. Photo: New York state Office of Mental Health

The OMH is making changes, that article reports, because of an expected shift to Medicaid managed care it’s expecting in 2014, and because the state believes its system has too much inpatient capacity and “not enough emphasis on community-based treatment and support.”

North Country officials are quite worried about what this might mean for Ogdensburg’s Psychiatric Center. While the OMH hasn’t identified which centers it plans to close, it has proposed a new catchment area that would stretch from Northern New York all the way down to Binghamton. So the OMH’s move is raising concerns about people currently in residential care getting pushed out, and people who need care not getting it because facilities are too far away.

In the earlier article, North Country State Sen. Pattie Ritchie told the Times that because of a 12-month notification period before the OMH can close a psychiatric hospital, there’s time to fight any proposed closures. Apparently four facilities were proposed for closure in 2013-14, but none of those was approved by either the Assembly or the Senate.

Ritchie told the paper why she thinks keeping the Psychiatric Center open is critical:

We keep saying we need more treatment available for mental illness, but I hear from people every day that they have family members who have to wait six months to see somebody…Now we’re looking at potentially closing a facility down when there’s nothing close by here.

The OMH information system will be at noon on May 15, at the Psychiatric Center’s Unity building (that’s at 1 Chimney Point Drive). Officials have said it’s a positive that this meeting is happening here, both because it will give them the chance to make the case for the Psychiatric Center, and because it will give OMH officials an on-the-ground sense of just how isolated our region is and how much of an ask it would be for patients to travel to, say, Syracuse or Albany for care.

The Psychiatric Center has about 68 inpatients and runs an array of outpatient services. About 500 people work there, and the center’s also home to a secure mental health facility that houses sex offenders.

On a related note, the Watertown Daily Times is reporting today that Family Counseling Service of Northern New York, which provides individual, marital and family counseling, will receive a $30,000 loan from the Watertown Trust (aka the Watertown Local Development Corp.), which in various ways works to help finance local economic development projects in Watertown.

Family Counseling Service sees more than 1,000 people a month with 17 employees. The loan will keep the agency afloat until it can receive reimbursements for services it’s already provided. It comes as the organization’s started talks about merging with Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions, another Watertown organization. The Times says if this (or any) merger does take place, “the entire loan would have to be paid.”

More information about the possible merger may be available in the next few weeks.


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1 Comment on “Mental health funding and fears in O’burg, Watertown”

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  1. tootightmike says:

    So let me get this straight. We’ll let the schools run short of funding, cut programs, and do more and more testing while doing less ans less teaching, because who needs it, right? We’ll cut services to the mentally ill, and close facilities, and reduce access, because who cares, right? But we’ll fight like hell to keep a prison open. How thoughtful and progressive of us.
    Those who plan our future for us have decided that with no education, no jobs, and no mental health services…they’d better be prepared to lock us up.

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