Dozens question proposed closure of mental health facilities

By Perry Russom

September 23, 2013 Updated Sep 23, 2013 at 11:44 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Two major psychiatric and developmental centers are set to close in our area -- leaving local families and patients scrambling to find a replacement.

The Greater Binghamton Health Center will close in July and the Broome County Developmental Center will follow in 2016.

More than 50 people packed the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier (MHAST) early Monday evening to voice their opinions on the closures.

One woman was Sue Shimalla, of Apalachin. Her son has received mental health treatment and counseling in the past.

"It definitely could create more safety problems and definitely will put people into services that are inappropriate," said Shimalla of the closures. "If we have troubled young people and we can plug them into help, we can avoid some of these national tragedies."

While MHAST isn't at risk of being shut down, MHAST's Executive Director Keith Leahey said after hearing complaints from their clients, they decided to hold a public forum.

The proposed plan calls for children in the Greater Binghamton area to be forced to go to Utica for treatment and counseling, while adults would have to travel to Syracuse.

"I could see the plan coming together and working," said Leahey. "I do, personally believe that the plan may be moving too quick. It's a pretty aggressive timeline. I do think that there's a good number of things that need to get looked at."

Lt. Tim Hill of the Broome County Sheriff's Office said one of those things is the potential added strain the plan could place on the Broome County Jail.

Hill said when he started working at the correctional facility 25 years ago, 19 percent of inmates had a diagnosed mental health issue -- that number has now spiked to 42 percent.

He said the county already waits two to three months to send an inmate to a psychiatric facility.

"Our concern now is if we close some facilities down, it's going to be an even longer wait -- six, seven or eight months before an inmate is actually sent to a facility where they need to get those services," said Hill.

Some there Monday night said moving treatment and counseling centers to Utica and Syracuse would put a financial strain on their families.

Notes were taken on what each person had to say and a letter will be drafted and sent to state and local lawmakers.