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LI senators to Cuomo: Save Sagamore children's psych center

At a public hearing held by the State

At a public hearing held by the State Office of Mental Health via video conferencing, staffers at the Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center wore shirts calling for the saving the Dix Hills hospital. (Aug. 27, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

ALBANY - Long Island senators have stepped up their push to get Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to reverse a decision to close Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills, buoyed by his change of heart on three upstate facilities.

In a letter to the governor, the nine members of the Island delegation, all Republicans, said he should save Sagamore -- as he preserved psychiatric centers in Elmira, Binghamton and Ogdensburg earlier this month.

"It is imperative that you similarly recognize the vitally important role Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center plays in the lives of children and their families on Long Island," the senators wrote. "As the only state inpatient beds for children and adolescents on all of Long Island, the safety net that Sagamore provides must be maintained."

The Cuomo administration said Friday it would review the request.

The legislators' push is the latest in a monthslong campaign to save Sagamore and similar facilities.

Last summer, the Cuomo administration announced plans to shutter nine of the 24 state-run psychiatric hospitals over the next three years as part of a move to shift patient care to regional centers or community-based residential facilities.

Administration officials said that New York is an outlier in the number of psychiatric hospitals it maintains -- noting that California, with twice the population, has just five.

"The time has come to fundamentally change the way we think about mental health in New York State," state Office of Mental Health Acting Commissioner Kristin Woodlock said in releasing the plan.

Under the plan, Sagamore is set to close in July. Long Island children who need to be hospitalized would have to go to facilities in Queens or the Bronx.

In the months since the plan was unveiled, lawmakers and parents have made a concerted push to slow it. Activists have held numerous rallies, including one in Brentwood in November, and legislators introduced a bill to put the closure plan on hold until April 1, 2015.

On Dec. 19, Cuomo granted a reprieve to three upstate psychiatric facilities, citing "tireless efforts by state and local leaders, mental health advocates and the families of patients." The new plans reduced the number of beds but kept the centers open.

Long Islanders are asking for the same result.

"It definitely gives us more hope," said state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), whose district includes Sagamore.

"Over the years, the [Sagamore] facility has downsized considerably, from 150 beds to 54 today," the senators wrote. "However, New York cannot afford to eliminate all those state-operated beds for children on Long Island and leave it as the sole region of the state without any children's beds."

Strategically, Flanagan said Republicans would have to get Cuomo to reverse course on Sagamore before the beginning of the 2014-15 fiscal year, April 1.

"It should be debated, discussed and resolved as part of the [new] budget," Flanagan said.

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