By Dan Guzewich Staff writer
The state’s plan to end inpatient adult care at Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center continues to be fought by local state representatives and others.
The Office of Mental Health announced in February it was going to close two adult wards at the Utica facility and move a third one, about 15 to 25 patients, to an empty building on the campus of a similar hospital in Syracuse. Patients who do not go to a facility like Hutchings Psychiatric Center in downtown Syracuse would be transitioned to an outpatient setting.
The closures would result in the loss of about 100 jobs locally.
Jeanette St. Mary, an intensive care manager and Public Employees Federation council leader at the West Utica facility, said since the announcement about three months ago the inpatient population has been dropping and employees leaving. St. Mary said last Friday it was her understanding that the inpatient count was down to 47 as of the previous Tuesday and no new long-term inpatients were being accepted.
She points to the burden created for patients who wind up in a different setting and for family members and friends who have to travel longer distances to visit patients.
Nonetheless, local state representatives aren’t giving up on stopping the closure.
Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi, D-116, Utica, said he was part of a conference call with Larry Schwartz, a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. They discussed the cost to relocate inpatients from the Utica to Syracuse and other issues related to closing the inpatient wards in Utica. Brindisi said Schwartz pledged to review the information he received with the governor and his staff.
One of the issues that has attracted the ire of opponents of the downsizing in Utica is the plan to update facilities in Syracuse. They point to $19 million in renovations at Hutchings, with at least some of them needed to accommodate new patients from elsewhere.
"There certainly was no guarantee from Mr. Schwartz that this plan will be halted," said Brindisi. "However, he did say he would again review the estimated $19 million price tag to move patients from Utica to Syracuse."
Brindisi and state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-47, Rome, recently wrote State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan, urging him to come to Utica to meet with employees at Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, relatives of patients and concerned area residents.
"We still don’t have specific information about the Office of Mental Health’s plans, and area residents are justifiably angry that they don’t know what might happen over the next few months" Brindisi said. "OMH staff must develop an effective plan to ensure that the 40 inpatients who will soon be released into the community will receive adequate care."
Griffo says he’s also been contacted by people who live around the psychiatric center that already has unused and deteriorating facilities.
"I have been hearing from neighborhood residents who are tired of having to look at the dilapidated condition of the abandoned Brigham Building on the psychiatric center campus," he said. "The state needs to follow up on promises made six years ago to demolish this building by following up on a plan to quickly knock it down, and I am seeking a commitment from Commissioner Hogan that it will be demolished as soon as possible."
Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-115, New Hartford, says it not fiscally prudent for the state to shutter facilities in Utica and then spend millions of dollars at Hutchings so it can handle new patients. She said that the Hutchings Center is not code compliant for services currently offered to the patients of MVPC.
Tenney also worries about the impact on area families and friends who might have to travel to Syracuse to visit patients instead of the closer Utica facility.
"Reducing MVPC’s capabilities is inappropriate when the reduction plan would be an overwhelming burden to both patients and taxpayers," she said. "The governor and commissioner of the Office of Mental Health need to review and reverse the decision they have made."