A group of state Assembly members from Long Island say the New York Office of Mental Health has reneged on a deal not to reduce beds at Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center.
The state budget for next year included a provision to reduce beds from 54 to 27 at the Dix Hills center as part of a statewide effort to focus more on outpatient mental health services.
But after a groundswell of opposition, including on Long Island, negotiations between the legislature, state Division of the Budget and the Office of Mental Health yielded an agreement on April 1. Under the deal, beds at six facilities statewide, including Sagamore, may not be cut unless several conditions are met.
Under the agreement, the Office of Mental Health was not to "prohibit clinically appropriate admissions." It was also to "ensure new community investments" in services before reducing beds and not cut funds for beds unless they were empty for 90 days.
In a letter sent Friday, 17 Long Island Assembly members from both parties and counties contend that without meeting those conditions, beds at the facility have already been cut to 44, with plans to reduce them to 36 later this month.
"These actions run directly counter to the agreement," the letter states.
But OMH spokeswoman Kristin Salvi said "no beds have been cut and none will be cut this year."
"The Office of Mental Health remains in compliance with the agreement made with the state legislature for FY 2014-2015," she said in a statement.
Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who crafted the letter, said "multiple sources" have told him that staffing has been removed or not replaced, which has resulted in the cuts to 44 patients.
"It's a shell game," he said. "They say they haven't removed beds, but they have removed the capacity for servicing the critically mentally ill young people."
Tom McOlvin, executive director at Sagamore from November 2011 to February 2014, said the facility has lost several doctors and, because salaries have been frozen and are "noncompetitive," it has been unable to recruit more. That has meant the facility had to maintain "less than a full census" despite a waiting list, he said. His fear is that will lead to beds being reduced permanently.
"Sagamore for more than 40 years has been demonstrating it can help kids and families," McOlvin said. "I want to see that whatever is put in its place has the same ability to meet the needs of kids, and that has to be demonstrated before beds are closed."
Dennis Dubey, executive director of Sagamore from 2003 to 2011, agreed. He said that the April 1 agreement ensured a rational process for reducing beds "that would be based on data, implementation of new programs and most importantly, a pledge to eliminate inpatient beds only after a lack of need for them has been demonstrated. It is more than disheartening to see that OMH has reneged on this agreement."
Sue Morin, director for the adolescent psychiatric partial hospitalization program at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, said Sagamore performs a unique service on Long Island. Mather has 10 short-term beds for mentally ill adolescents, she said.
"The problem is that some of these kids need an extended hospital stay," she said. "Sagamore is the only place, and they do a beautiful job of what they do."