PLATTSBURGH — Local mental-health-care professionals don’t know yet how a new plan to keep inpatient units open at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg would affect services here.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the new plan Thursday.
St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center is the only long-term inpatient psychiatric center in the North Country.
“My concern all along is, whether or not the hospital closes, we need services locally,” said Sherrie Gillette, director of Community Services for the Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services. “We have none of the specifics about how this will impact our county.”
Gillette was part of the Regional Centers of Excellence committee that was making recommendations and planning for the closure.
Per the new proposal, St. Lawrence would keep the 48 adult and 20 children’s beds it has now. A number of outpatient services would be added.
And a Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence would be established, as the closure of one adult ward there would provide $3 million in savings to help pay for it, the plan says.
Craig Amoth, president and CEO of Behavioral Health Services North (BHSN) in Plattsburgh, echoed Gillette’s feelings in a statement, saying the new information calls for review and discussion among local officials and the State Office of Mental Health to more fully understand what it would mean for North Country residents.
Gillette said there is a nationwide trend that’s pushing toward community-based care.
“It’s very difficult for families to make that two-and-a-half hour trek (to Ogdensburg), especially in the winter and with the price of gas and so on.”
Amoth said the effort to move resources closer to the home communities of patients is “consistent with national health-reform efforts to achieve the ‘triple aim’ of lowering costs, improving outcomes and increasing patient satisfaction.”
A new Expanded Mobile Crisis and Support team would be part of the new plan at St. Lawrence.
Such a team would be invaluable for Clinton County residents, Gillette said, but, based on the wording in the governor’s press release, she was unsure if it would travel as far as Clinton County.
“We have so many of our people who are ending up in jail and prison where ... if they were having adequate treatment, we could do an intervention and they wouldn’t be arrested.”
And hospitalization should be used as a last resort, only in true emergencies, Gillette said.
In Clinton County, there are psychiatric units at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh.
One has 18 beds for adults and the other 12 for children; the usual stay there is between six and eight days, Gillette said, as it is an acute-care facility.
“It’s very short-term; it’s meant to stabilize the person and get them back into the community.”
Those who need more long-term care may be transferred to St. Lawrence. That doesn’t happen very often though, she said.
“The number of admissions to St. Lawrence from Clinton County has been fairly small.”
For those who do require more extensive care, Gillette said, St. Lawrence is favorable because it is closer than the regional centers planned for Albany and Syracuse — that’s where St. Lawrence’s inpatient services were going to be moved before the recent alteration was announced.
Among the local services that need attention is the availability of doctors who specialize in mental health, Gillette said.
There are 12 psychiatrists in Clinton County, she said. However, one works just one day a week at BHSN.
Fortunately, CVPH will have a second psychiatrist on staff soon and is looking to hire a third, she said.
Even so, Gillette said, the wait lists to see a psychiatrist in Clinton County are “very extensive,” and the county has been looking into “telepsychiatry” that would use video conferencing.
“The shortage is nationwide,” she said, adding that there is an even greater shortage for child psychiatrists.
“I think when you get to rural areas, there’s a pay differential that’s problematic, and I think (when it comes to) the more-rural areas — even though we see it as a high quality of life — people prefer a more urban area. It’s a very hard to recruit here.”
Another aspect of care that needs attention is the availability of safe, affordable housing for county residents who have mental illness, Gillette said.
‘DISREGARD FOR WORKFORCE’
In a statement, New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) President Susan M. Kent expressed her concern upon hearing that St. Lawrence’s inpatient services would stay open.
Kent said union is “disheartened” that Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to announce public policy decisions to the media first.
The original plan to shut down the inpatient service at the hospital was “ill-thought out, and this has caused the people who receive mental-health services and the people who deliver them great anxiety and upset,” Kent said.
“The governor continues to exhibit callous disregard for his workforce.”
‘HEARD LIKE EVERYONE ELSE’
Gillette said she first heard of the change in plan on Thursday, when it was announced to the public.
A contingency of local mental-health administrators met with the governor in the past couple of weeks, she said, and she said she knew he was going to communicate with the affected hospitals via teleconference that day.
But she wasn’t sure what the topic of discussion would be.
“I heard about it just like everybody else did.”
The new plan comes with a new commissioner for the State Office of Mental Health, Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan, a psychiatrist who has held the post for just three weeks, Gillette said.
“I think, certainly, she will be providing guidance and recommendations about how this will impact the community.”
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