By Jon Campbell Albany Bureau
ALBANY Groups representing mental-health patients backed the Cuomo administration's plan to reduce the number of New York psychiatric hospitals Tuesday, but called on the state to "reinvest" the money it saves into localized care for the mentally ill.
A coalition of organizations held a news conference in Albany Tuesday to tout the state Office of Mental Health's plan, which would close hospitals in Binghamton and Elmira en route to consolidating 24 inpatient facilities into 15 regional centers by 2017.
But the advocates said the state must take the money it expects to save -- an estimated $20 million in the first year of the three-year plan -- and put it back into patient care.
Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State, said he wants to see the state commit to ensuring "any bed, ward or facility closure, or any attrition of the workforce is reinvested into community services." He warned against directing the cost savings into the state's general fund.
"Today, we're not talking about jobs or hospitals or payment methodology," Liebman said Tuesday. "We're talking about recovery."
The plan backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, which was unveiled last week, puts a greater emphasis on "community services" by boosting care at 24 outpatient "hubs" across the state. The state spends about $6.6 billion annually on mental-health care, including federal dollars.
But the hospital closures have been met with significant criticism from the state's largest public union and some local lawmakers, including Senate Deputy Republican Leader Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, who has pledged to fight the closures. The plan allows the state Office of Mental Health to begin closing the hospitals in 2014.
"It's disappointing that members of the mental health services community would be so quick to embrace the vague and superficial outline put forth by the Cuomo administration," Danny Donohue, president of the state Civil Service Employees Association, said in a statement. "New York has never followed through with promised reinvestment for adequate mental health services over the past generation."
Ben Rosen, a spokesman for the Office of Mental Health, said regional panels will identify areas that need an expansion of community-based care as the plan moves forward. Any "reinvestment of savings will be based upon the needs of respective communities," he said.
"The Office of Mental Health is committed to the expansion of community-based mental health services in New York state," Rosen said.