By Jessica Bakeman,
ALBANY The state's 24 mental hospitals will be consolidated into 15 regional centers over three years, but layoffs are not expected, the state Office of Mental Health announced Wednesday.
Adult inpatient psychiatric centers in Binghamton and Elmira are set to close, starting in 2014, while a Rochester hospital will transform to a regional forensic facility, treating mentally ill people in the criminal justice system. Another forensic hospital in New Hampton, Orange County, will shut its doors, as will a children's facility in West Seneca, Erie County.
Along with Rochester, regional centers will be established in Albany, Syracuse, Utica and Rockland County, as well as downstate.
"Working together with communities, we can and will change the outdated and costly way we serve individuals with mental illness," Acting Mental Health Commissioner Kristin Woodlock said in a statement Wednesday. "We are courageous and determined to take the lead in moving our behavioral health system towards excellence."
The state plans to avoid layoffs by shifting employees to the new regional centers, reassigning inpatient workers to community-based positions or other state agencies and retraining impacted employees for other state jobs.
The plan allows patients to choose which facility from which to seek treatment, eliminating requirements based on geographical area.
Existing adult psychiatric centers in Buffalo and Elmira and a children's treatment facility in West Seneca, Erie County, will merge to create the Great Lakes Regional Center in Buffalo. The consolidated facility will house 208 beds by 2017, when the plan is fully implemented.
Rochester's adult inpatients will be transferred to regional centers in Buffalo or Syracuse. Under the plan, the existing mental hospital in Rochester will transform into the Western New York Regional Forensic Center by 2017, serving 155 people in the criminal justice system, such as those who were deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for a crime.
Outpatient treatment will still be available at clinics in Buffalo, Rochester and Elmira.
The adult and children's psychiatric centers in Rockland County will merge to form the Lower Hudson Regional Center in Orangeburg, which will house 405 beds by 2017.
A research-driven regional center will also be located in Rockland County at the Nathan Kline Institute, which collaborates with New York University on psychiatric research.
Outpatient services will be expanded in Poughkeepsie; Middletown, Orange County; and Westchester County.
Existing mental hospitals in Binghamton, Syracuse and Utica will merge to form a regional center with two inpatient campuses. An adult facility will house 185 beds in Syracuse, and a children's facility will house 75 beds in Utica.
Several hospitals in New York City, Long Island and the North Country will also close or merge to form regional centers.
Mental health advocates lauded the plan in a statement Wednesday, although they said they hope to see the state reinvest savings into community-based programs.
"Our organizations welcome these proposals to reconfigure state dollars and staff in a way that maximizes state resources to meet our communities' most pressing needs, while at the same time creating state of the art regional psychiatric facilities that are among the nation's best," said the state Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, the Mental Health Association and other groups in the statement.
The state Public Employees Federation, a union, said in a statement that it was still reviewing the plan to determine how it would impact its members.
The plan to reorganize the hospitals was included in Cuomo's budget proposal in January. Lawmakers removed it from the budget but gave the mental health office the power to lead the consolidation without further legislative approval.
The state is required to announce any closures or consolidations a year before they begin, so hospitals will not be affected until July 2014.