The state's plan to close the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg is a bad one. We don't trust the state to set up good alternatives. The same goes for Sunmount, D.D.S.O., in which rumors still swirl.
Gov. Cuomo seems to have the same focus as his father Mario Cuomo did when he was governor in 1990. He removed mental health patients from state hospitals to live in the communities as a more humane treatment, but instead failed miserably at providing the care they needed. Maybe he was of an impressionable age when Willowbrook was shut down for abuses there, but he needs to realize that these facilities need to exist because they're often better than the alternative. No one wants residents there to be abused, and the Cuomo administration has, to its credit, made some positive changes there.
That should be his future path: Improve institutional care, but don't eliminate it.
Right here in our own communities, we are witness to those with seriously mental health issues. We watch with concern, but authorities say they can't do anything unless they are a harm to themselves or others.
Then over a period of time, they might end up in our police blotter or even on our front page. Waiting for someone to harm themselves or others is not taking action to help the most severely ill people when it should be the priority.
Commissioner of state Office of Mental Health Michael Hogan has shifted the focus away from serving those with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to providing more general social service programs to make people happier. His theory on behavioral health, as he authored in President Barack Obama's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health believes in a more preventative approach to those with a poor mental state. This takes the attention away from the most serious mental illnesses, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which in total effects 7.7 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Trying to be everything to everybody with no priorities will result in failure. It puts the most eminent in need in a dangerous crisis mode. This results in more than three times more seriously mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in psychiatric hospitals.
If Gov. Cuomo truly cares about improving the mental health of New Yorkers, he needs to prioritize the broad spectrum of mental illness and make sure those who can't help themselves will find nurturing care in a safe environment with professional treatment. Most importantly needed is stricter guidelines to avoid abuse in the institutions and group homes for better protection for those who need refuge.
He should also look at New York State Office of Mental Health for misdirection, inefficiencies and consider alternatives. One option was in an op-ed in the Albany Times Union calling to improve care by eliminating the NYS Office of Mental Health entirely because is acting more as a social service agency. Some comments were to combine mental health services with medical services. This would act as one stop health center with a team collaborating by sharing information and treatment on a person's physical and mental state.
We are not saying to reinvent the wheel, but some states do it well with citizen oversight and input that should be looked at. New York's most successful program is the assisted outpatient treatment, known as Kendra's Law. It allows courts to commit historically violent patients to stay in preventative treatment as a condition of living in the community. This has shown a staggering decrease in arrests, incarceration, suicide attempts, physical harm to others and even reduced expensive hospitalization costs.
Closing the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center will not save money, but will only exacerbate the problem by pushing it to emergency rooms, jails, or worse out on the streets causing harm to themselves and others which could have been prevented. People are hurting and we can't treat them like stray dogs. We must do better.