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Psych center’s future worries legislators

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators are worried that rumblings about changes to the state mental health system will mean the demise of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

The state Office of Mental Health is putting together a plan to reduce the number of inpatient psychiatric hospital beds and develop more outpatient services for the mentally ill. The state has not identified hospitals it wants to close, but it has proposed a broad central region catchment area would include Northern New York and stretch all the way to Binghamton.

The north country is a rural area that needs services, not more travel time, said Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, chairman of the Board of Legislators.

“It’s in our interest to make sure this facility remains open,” he said.

The psychiatric center cares for up to 68 patients in house and runs a number of outpatient services, employing about 500 people. A secure mental health facility that houses sex offenders also is on the campus.

Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said he was not encouraged by the state’s call to reduce inpatient services as it has in the past. That resulted in clients wandering the streets of Ogdensburg and Massena as outpatients.

“A lot of them needed to be there. A lot of them still need to be there,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “I’m concerned we’re going to end up with another bunch of empty buildings there.”

Ogdensburg has been added to the list of places state officials will visit to gather information, which could be a good way to put out the word about the center and its services, county Community Services Director Angela Doe said.

“Some of the changes may not all be negative,” she said.

Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said he plans to testify at the public meeting May 15 on the strengths of the psychiatric center.

“We need to remain on top of this,” he said.

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