Bill would postpone closure of Sagamore children's psych center

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State legislators from Long Island are backing a Senate bill that would freeze the closing of mental health facilities around the state, including Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills.

In July, the state Office of Mental Health issued a plan that calls for merging the state's 24 inpatient psychiatric hospitals into 15 "regional centers of excellence" to focus more on community-based services.

The plan calls for Sagamore to lose its 54 beds next July. Long Island children who need to be hospitalized would have to go to facilities in Queens or the Bronx.

Local parents and officials have argued that Sagamore provides excellent care and that the state's plan would be a hardship on families.

Last Friday, state Sen. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) introduced a bill co-sponsored by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) that would place a moratorium on the plan until April 1, 2015, during which time the state would "work with the local communities to make sure that the appropriate safety nets are in place."

State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and Assembs. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) and Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington) -- on hand Wednesday for a pro-Sagamore rally -- said they support the Senate bill. Dozens of demonstrators outside Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood said they've collected about 7,000 signatures on petitions calling for Sagamore to remain open.

Raia and Lupinacci said a similar bill will be introduced in the Assembly.

"I guarantee there will be a bill in the Assembly," Raia said. "We need to find the right sponsor to make sure it passes."

Lupinacci said the Senate bill "is a start and gives us time to explore funding." The state has said the plan would save $20 million over three years.

Boyle said he was hopeful the Senate bill will have "strong bipartisan support. This is not a partisan issue."

Marcellino anticipates the bill, if passed, would be vetoed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, but it would send a message regardless. Marcellino said budget negotiations would be the time for forceful action to keep Sagamore open.

Dennis Dubey, executive director of Sagamore from 2003 to 2011, who also spoke at the rally, said the Senate bill "would be the first public step in taking a more thoughtful and logical approach to the restructuring of mental health services in New York."

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