Politicians pressure NYS to keep mental health centers open

By Kelly McCarthy

November 18, 2013 Updated Nov 18, 2013 at 6:48 PM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Two state-run mental health facilities in the Southern Tier are on the verge of closing their doors by 2014, but local politicians won't let that happen without putting up a fight.

State Senator Tom Libous calls his efforts to keep the Greater Binghamton Health Center and the Broome Developmental Center open the "most important fight of his career."

He's drafted new legislation called the "Freeze Unsafe Closures Now" Act as one weapon. If passed, would delay any closures to mental health facilities statewide until April 2015.

"You know they say there's savings on the state side," said Thomas Libous, (R) NYS 52nd Senate, "I want to see what the savings are, I don't believe it. I don't believe the numbers are as great as they say and we have a population of citizens that we need to protect and I'm going to fight to do that."

Libous said the closures come with the risk of losing up to one-thousand jobs in the Southern Tier and releasing more than 100 patients into the community.

"There has to be some concern for the number of jobs lost," Libous said, "For the burden on the local hospitals, for the burden on the counties, for the jails, I mean this is going to be a disaster."

The Broome County Correctional Facility says they're already dealing with problems of overcrowding.

They say the possibility of releasing the 15 registered sex offenders into the community, who are currently patients at the two facilities, is a major concern.

"The unknown is there," said Major Mark Smolinsky, Broome County Correctional Facility, "We don't really know what it means or what the numbers will be, but the certainty is the folks will end up in the county jails and keep in mind again we are not a treatment facility. We are a correctional facility."

Dr. Leslie Major of United Health Services said his staff and financial resources are already at their breaking point, and he's witnessed the number of available psychiatrists decrease at hospitals.

He thinks the closure of mental heath centers would overcrowd emergency rooms.

"I think my greatest fear is if they close and our beds are full then all ER's will be full of psychiatric mental patients waiting for a place to go," Major said, "And then what happens to the people who need medical, surgical services and the ER's are all full."

Libous sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo on Nov. 5th asking for a meeting to discuss alternative solutions to the closures.

Cuomo responded to the letter, and Libous said he's trying to get that meeting scheduled for next week in Albany.