Sunmount resident release proves a challenge

The main Sunmount facility, a state institution for developmentally disabled, is seen here in 2017. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

An incident involving a man released from the state Sunmount facility in Tupper Lake caused tension for several days this week at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, as well as for state and local police.

He had been evaluated at Sunmount, an institution that’s part of the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, and it was deemed that he did not need to stay there, according to an OPWDD staff member with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired.

After the man was released from Sunmount, he was seen darting through traffic in the village of Tupper Lake and was picked up by village and state police on Saturday, Dec. 1 on state Route 30 by Lakeview Lanes, according to village police. Police transported the man to the emergency room at AMC in Saranac Lake.

State police Public Information Officer Trooper Jennifer Fleishman said troopers had to return on Monday to find the man, who had left the hospital on foot, and return him to AMC.

Hospital employees struggled to manage the man during the days he was there, the OPWDD source said.

“I know that it is standard operating procedure that if the hospital is serving someone that cannot be managed by them, and if all the Office of Mental Health people say, ‘No, that person is not able to be served by us,’ then the hospital will try very, very hard to get Sunmount to take them back,” the source said.

The source said people involved in the case said the man is back at Sunmount now.

OPWDD Director of Communications Jennifer O’Sullivan noted that the agency cannot say anything publicly about anyone in its care, as it must protect their confidentiality.

“Most people with developmental disabilities who receive our services are in our care voluntarily and may choose, at any time, to no longer accept those services,” O’Sullivan wrote in an email. “While we ordinarily encourage individuals to remain engaged in OPWDD services and welcome them to continue receiving services if their circumstances change, we will also work with local hospitals and partner agencies to identify alternative appropriate options and, if an individual appears to be a danger to themselves or others, may seek additional remedies.”

It is not clear at this time if the man in question had previously been at Sunmount voluntarily or involuntarily. The anonymous source explained that the man must have been brought back to the institution voluntarily.

“If this guy says, ‘I refuse, I will not go back to Sunmount,’ then that would be like the police bringing you or me to Sunmount and saying, ‘OK, Sunmount take this person,'” the source said. “You can’t falsely imprison people.”

When the man left Sunmount and was believed to be endangering himself and others, police picked him up pursuant to New York Mental Health Law 9.45, which states that, “The director of community services … shall have the power to direct the removal of any person, within his or her jurisdiction, to a hospital.”

The source said this incident was a case of someone slipping through the cracks and that most of the time, the process of returning Sunmount residents to the outside community goes smoothly.

“Yes, there are cracks in every single human system in our state. People fall through the cracks because nobody in our state wants to pay enough to seal the cracks,” the source said. “Services are stretched thin.

“I wish OPWDD would open the doors and invite you in and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing good,” the source said. “Forty years ago the press would come in … but somehow everything’s got to go through Albany. And believe me, they track down leaks.

“There’s such powerful people in Albany, and there’s such high levels of paranoia about their high-paid jobs. They may not have money to open a new bed, but they have money to hire a team of prosecutors to trump up some charges because they’re just using the right of free speech.”

Staff Writer Jesse Adcock contributed to this report.


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