Garnar: Secretive closure of mental health clinic is 'disturbing'

By Matt Porter

June 4, 2014 Updated Jun 4, 2014 at 7:18 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) When Action News revealed on May 27 the Broome County Mental Health Clinic will close its doors, the decision surprised many, including Broome County legislator Jason Garnar (D-14th District).

"It's all being done in secret," Garnar said, "and it's just disturbing, as a county legislator, to hear about that in the media."

Garnar said saving $128,000 a year by closing the clinic will end up costing more, as severely mentally ill people find themselves without help.

"The Broome County Jail is now our largest mental health provider," he said, "and you're talking well over $100 a day to house the inmates there."

Without access to important medications, retired BCMH clinic psychiatrist Clark Gardner said relapses can occur almost instantly.

"If someone stops an anti-psychotic medication or an anti-depressant, the likelihood of relapse in the next few months is very high, sometimes in the matter of weeks of being off of the medication," Gardner said.

A relapse is exactly what happened to Harold Koster's son who was released by the clinic after being treated for schizophrenia for 13 years.

"He'd been to the emergency room on five different occasions," Gardner said. "Sheriffs had to take him three times."

In the last year, the BCMH clinic downsized from more than 1,000 patients to less than 600.

He said the social worker asked his son if he wanted to continue his treatment and his son said no.

"Why did she ask, because she was under pressure to cut her caseload by 50 percent," Koster said. "And that's what happened, and these are the pressures that have been placed politically on the good people who work in this clinic."

Koster's son has since returned to treatment at the clinic.

Koster worries his son won't be the last casualty if the clinic closes.

The Democrats in the county legislature are proposing to freeze all layoffs at the clinic and keep it open for at least the next two years.

The legislators also want to hold a public hearing on the planned closure.

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