Those against the closure of Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center got a largely sympathetic reception from a panel of 13 state legislators at a public hearing Monday in Farmingdale.
In July, the state Office of Mental Health issued a comprehensive plan to overhaul the mental health services by merging the state's 24 inpatient psychiatric hospitals into 15 "regional centers of excellence" to focus more on community-based services.
On Long Island, the plan is that next July, Sagamore in Dix Hills will lose its 54 beds. Instead, children from Long Island who needed to be hospitalized would go to facilities in Queens or the Bronx.
To give local communities the chance to respond to the state's plan, the chairmen of the mental health committees for both houses, Assemb. Aileen Gunther (D-Middletown) and Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland), and Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the Senate health committee, are holding three hearings around the state. The first was on Long Island at Farmingdale State College.
Michael Mensch, district superintendent for Western Suffolk BOCES, which works with the psychiatric center to provide classes for Sagamore patients, called the services "irreplaceable" and the thought of inpatient beds being relocated to New York City "frightening."
"OMH hasn't created a viable plan," he told the panel. "There's no alternative for the Sagamore program."
The lack of detail about services that would replace Sagamore troubled some speakers.
Nicholas LaMorte, president of the Long Island office for Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, which represents about 140 employees at Sagamore, told the legislators that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration "is purposely misleading the public about the impact of this plan by packaging it with a nice sounding name without providing any real detail about how services will be provided or supported."
"Do you really believe that closing Sagamore and shipping these kids to Queens is a good thing?" he asked the panel.
Debra Kingsley, a psychologist at Sagamore for 34 years, gave an impassioned plea for keeping the facility open, saying it "already is a center of excellence."
"We are the last option for children in dire straits," she said.
After Kingsley spoke, Gunther, a nurse, said: "Maybe you are the model we are looking for."
Other legislators also were vocal in their opposition. Sen. Philip Boyle (R-Bay Shore) said closing the facility would be "devastating."
Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he gets "the need to rein in costs." But, he said, "I want to find an alternative."