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Demonstrators protest plan to close Sagamore Children's Psychiatric 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

About a dozen parents and employees, many of them wearing "Save Sagamore" T-shirts, showed up Tuesday at a state public hearing in Brentwood to protest the proposed closing of Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center.

The state Office of Mental Health has unveiled a comprehensive statewide plan that includes closing the Dix Hills facility's 54 inpatient beds in July.

Under the cost-cutting plan, children needing inpatient psychiatric treatment will go to facilities in Queens or the Bronx, and community services will be expanded, including intensive, individualized wraparound help designed to treat more troubled children at home.

But some parents and mental health professionals say Sagamore is a unique Long Island resource that provides aid to children who are too ill to remain at home and need longer-term institutionalized care.

"Unless Sagamore remains open, parents will be placed in the unenviable position of risking their children at home versus sending them somewhere relatively inaccessible to their families," said Dennis Dubey, executive director at Sagamore from 2003-2011.

Dubey testified at a joint public hearing by Mental Health and the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services that was video-conferenced at eight sites throughout the state, including Pilgrim Psychiatric Center.

Suzanne Dolgoff, of Westbury, said she attended the hearing because she was "so grateful" to Sagamore for the care her daughter received when she was at the facility twice as a teenager.

"If it's allowed to close, we'll see more suicides and more Sandy Hooks," she said referring the massacre last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Dolgoff said her daughter committed suicide in January 2012 at age 23, but she credits Sagamore for keeping her alive through her teen years.

Many local lawmakers also oppose the plan. Eleven members of the state Assembly from Long Island sent a letter Aug. 19 to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asking the governor to reconsider his position.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said he has been in touch with other senators about saving the center.

"It's always been a premier facility," he said. "The whole thing needs to be revisited. We should be building on the strength of Sagamore."