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2 LI psychiatric centers to cut beds under state plan

Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills will cut its 57 hospital beds and Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood will eliminate 64 as part of the state's plan to consolidate psychiatric services.

The state Office of Mental Health announced Wednesday an overhaul of New York's mental health system that it says will save $20 million over a three-year period. Under the plan, 24 inpatient psychiatric hospitals will be merged into 15 "regional centers of excellence" that will focus more on community-based care.

New York has more state psychiatric hospitals than any other state. Texas, with the next largest number, has eight. One-fifth, or $1.3 billion, of the New York mental health agency's annual budget is used to treat 10,000 inpatients. By comparison, the state spends $5.3 billion a year on community-based mental health services for 700,000 people, the agency said.

Pilgrim has been designated Long Island's regional center for expanded community-based services. Its 374 beds will be reduced to 335 next year; by the end of 2016, that number will be 310. At its peak in 1954, Pilgrim was the world's largest mental health facility, with almost 14,000 patients.

None of the facility's 1,214 employees -- who include residential and community-based staff as well as hospital workers -- will lose their jobs, said agency spokesman Benjamin Rosen.

The same will be true for Sagamore's 233 employees. The center's 57 inpatient beds will be cut and those services merged into children's facilities in Queens and the Bronx. Sagamore will be become an expanded hub for specialized community services by 2015.

Mental health advocates praised the state's plan.

Instead of "locking people away for the rest of their lives," community treatment is more effective and less expensive, said John Javis, director of special projects for the Mental Health Association of Nassau County in Hempstead.

Glenn Liebmancq, director of the Mental Health Association in New York State, called the plan "historic."

Community-based services "have the ability to be more recovery-oriented and less expensive," he said.

Liebman said his only concern was that savings from the consolidation should be put back into community mental health programs. "We'd like to have that spelled out," he said.

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