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Editorial: Keep a close eye on Sagamore psych center

Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center, 97 Half Hollow Rd.,

Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center, 97 Half Hollow Rd., Dix Hills, July 18, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

Are beds being cut at the Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center? Some state lawmakers say the state's Office of Mental Health is reneging on its agreement to not reduce beds. Officials at the Office of Mental Health say they are keeping their promise.

The truth seems to be somewhere in the middle, but the state office isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt from its critics. Last year the state threatened to shutter Sagamore and force children to go to a facility in New York City for long-term intensive inpatient psychiatric care. There was a huge outcry. Former patients, parents, staffers and politicians came together, claiming Sagamore is a superb facility that's done great things for troubled youth.

The state responded by budgeting a reduction in beds from 54 to 27. When that did not quiet the uproar, the Office of Mental Health agreed to maintain 54 beds until it provides new resources to make the existing beds unnecessary, eliminating them only after lack of need was proven.

Several Assembly members from Long Island sent a letter to the Office of Mental Health on July 18 claiming beds had already been cut to 44. Office of Mental Health officials say no cuts have been made, but that problems staffing Sagamore are limiting the number of patients who can be admitted.

There are 42 patients at Sagamore; two more who have been admitted but cannot be cared for are receiving inpatient care at a community hospital. Agency officials say that to use all 54 beds, they need to fill openings for a child psychiatrist, a specialty seeing a national shortage, and a clinical director. Mental health professionals familiar with both Sagamore and the industry say this is true.

The Office of Mental Health is doing what it can to maintain beds and services, as promised. Sagamore supporters are keeping a close and wary eye on the situation. Both the effort, and the scrutiny, are necessary.