OMH Plan Calls for Closing of 9 Psychiatric Centers
By Matthew Dondiego Legislative Gazette July 30, 2013
The New York State Office of Mental Health has unveiled a plan to consolidate or close nine state-managed health care facilities reducing the number of centers from 24 to 15 over a three-year period.
While the plan received praise from several notable advocates for the mental health community, including Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, one of the most outspoken Senate members on mental health issues, Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue dismissed the plan as another attempt by Cuomo's administration to mislead the public.
Tkaczyk, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, called the plan a step in the right direction.
"I believe that the plan to reshape the state's inpatient mental health system, and increase state-operated outpatient services is a major, and laudable, step," Tkaczyk said.
The Duanesburg Democrat is urging that money saved from consolidating certain mental health facilities should be used to ensure that communities losing facilities are given economic development support.
"The plan will provide significant savings, and it is critical that we reinvest some of those saving into local service providers, to strengthen our mental health care system and ensure the nine communities that are losing their facilities have the resources they need to provide adequate services," Tkaczyk said.
Under the "Regional Centers of Excellence" plan, areas losing or merging facilities can expect to be partially supported by a network of community-based service centers surrounding the region's remaining center. According to the OMH, community-based services are expected to play a crucial role in integrating patients back into the community and providing additional services to mental health patients.
Earlier this year, Tkaczyk introduced the "Communities of Excellence Mental Health Reinvestment Act," a bill that proposes taking a portion of the savings from downsizing mental health facilities and reinvesting it into communities across the state. The bill would take half of the money saved from the closure of treatment facilities for retraining workers and the other half going to improving community services in the nonprofit sector. The bill did not pass before the session's end.
The OMH estimates the cost for each patient in state facilities is $292,730 per year, and with 500 beds being cut from state centers in the first year, a total of $146,365,000 could be saved in the plan's first year alone, according to Tkaczyk's office.
Tkaczyk called for public hearings in the communities affected by the closings and consolidations.
Despite the OMH "ensuring a continuity of employment" for their workers by pledging to retrain impacted employees for alternative state employment, offer employees transfers to other state-regulated agencies, transform inpatient hospital positions to community-based positions and other attempts to protect jobs, the CSEA strongly opposed the plan.
CSEA President Danny Donohue says the plan is irresponsible, claiming there are already inadequate mental health services, and adding that the proposal does nothing to address those shortcomings. Donohue also claims this plan is likely to cost more for local taxpayers.
"There is nothing of excellence in Governor Cuomo's proposal to close psychiatric centers, leave seriously ill people without the help they need and dump more unfunded mandates on local tax payers," Donohue said. "Once again the Cuomo administration is purposely misleading the public about the impact of his policies by packaging his proposal with a nice sounding name without providing any real detail about how services will be provided or supported."
According to CSEA, large numbers of inmates in jails and correctional facilities have some form of mental illness, which, if appropriately addressed by community services, could have avoided incarceration, but instead local tax payers are left to pay for the state's failure to provide adequate services.
Health care facilities in areas such Ogdensburg, Elmira, Sagamore and Middletown are among the facilities already announced to be closing or merging.