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ALBANY The state is proposing to allocate $72 million to establish community hubs to replace mental-health hospitals that are set to close in the Southern Tier and across the state, advocates said Monday.

The money would be used to expand community services and save the hundreds of jobs that could be at risk when the hospitals close next year, according to draft plans developed by the state Office of Mental Health.

Mental-health advocates backed the proposal released last week, and job losses are not expected as the state consolidates its 24 mental hospitals into 15 regional centers over three years.

"Too often, states close things and then try to build up services," said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the state Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. "This is a commitment to pre-investing and putting up services in advance of downsizing."

Southern Tier lawmakers have been battling to keep open the Greater Binghamton Health Center, the Elmira Psychiatric Center and the Broome Developmental Center.

Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, introduced legislation last month that would postpone any closures until April 2015.

He said Monday that he supports, in theory, the state's proposal. But too often, he said, the state aid isn't tied to patient care as originally outlined. He said a similar plan failed in the early 1990s.

"It was designed to have the money follow the patient in the community. Unfortunately, it never happened," Libous described. "The money stayed as a savings to the state coffers."

As part of the changes, a Rochester psychiatric hospital will transform to a regional forensic facility, treating mentally ill people in the criminal justice system. The Rochester hospital that's closing had 542 employees earlier this year, records showed.

Regional centers are set to be established in Albany, Syracuse, Utica and Rockland County, as well as in New York City and Long Island.

Libous said part of the problem is that local services would move to other parts of the state, such as a children's inpatient unit in Binghamton that would move to Utica.

The Greater Binghamton Health Center has about 370 employees and houses about 90 adults and 15 children. The Elmira Psychiatric Center has about 360 employees, while 70 adults and 20 children are housed there.

The state's proposal would provide help to 7,000 patients through community services, both inpatient and outpatient, as well as direct additional Medicaid money for mental-health programs.

There was no immediate comment Monday from the state Office of Mental Health.

When its recommendations were released in July, the state indicated that employees would be relocated, offered other employment in the community or retrained.

"We are committed to continuity of employment for our workforce," the proposal said.

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