Sagamore children's psych center spared state closure, for now

Dr. Dennis Dubey, former director of the Sagamore Dr. Dennis Dubey, former director of the Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills, opposes the state's plan to close the center. (July 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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The state has backed off its proposal to close Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center this summer, deciding instead to cut the number of beds in half.

The state Office of Mental Health announced a plan last year calling for merging New York's 24 inpatient psychiatric hospitals into 15 "regional centers of excellence" to focus more on community-based services.

That plan had called for Sagamore in Dix Hills to lose all of its 54 beds this July and for Long Island children who needed to be hospitalized to go to facilities in Queens or the Bronx. Parents and politicians argued that would pose a hardship for families.

Under the revised plan, Sagamore will remain operational for the next fiscal year ending March 31, 2015, with 27 beds, said OMH spokesman Ben Rosen. It's not clear what will happen after that.

"Two wards of the current four wards are anticipated to be downsized during the upcoming year, but only after the planned expansion of community-based services designed to reduce hospitalization and length of stay are created," he said.

Rosen said OMH also plans to develop eight "crisis/respite" beds at Sagamore that will provide short-term care for children with serious emotional disturbances. These beds could also be used as a step-down from acute psychiatric admissions, he said.

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Long Island is to receive $8.4 million for expanded services that will "allow OMH to serve nearly 600 new individuals," Rosen said. But state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington), whose districts include Sagamore, and mental health advocates want to see all 54 beds preserved.

Critics worry the state could close the facility later.

"The plan now to reduce Sagamore's inpatient program to 27 beds seems more like a compromise under pressure rather than a sudden realization of the needs on Long Island," said Dennis Dubey, executive director of Sagamore from 2003 to 2011, who was at a rally Friday at the facility to keep it open.

State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said he worried that the loss of beds could mean a loss of services. "I want to look at the safety net for acute psychotic episodes and make sure we have a firm plan as to how monies would follow individuals in the community," he said.

But Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, said he thought the plan was a "good sort of compromise" because it would mean more services that stress prevention and keep patients in the community.

"I understand that in a moment of crisis it's hard to imagine that there's a better option than a hospital, but we have developed a whole array of outreach and engagement services," he said. "Right now, all the resources are stuck in hospitals."

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