Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center could close

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 3/3/21

ORANGEBURG, NY — If all goes according to plan, the region would lose another option for children who need inpatient psychiatric care.

Under Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget for 2022, the …

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Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center could close

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ORANGEBURG, NY — If all goes according to plan, the region would lose another option for children who need inpatient psychiatric care.

Under Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget for 2022, the Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center (RCPC) would solely focus on “brief, intensive, community-based care.” Current resident children and youth who require intensive, in-patient care for severe illnesses such as bipolar disorder would be moved to the Bronx.

RCPC’s catchment area is large and includes Sullivan County as well as the Hudson Valley.

The good news is, Sullivan County has no young people staying there, family services commissioner John Liddle confirmed. Although RCPC was once used, “other providers have come online in recent years that are a better fit for our needs, the needs of our client families and those of family court,” he said.

The bad news is that closing the RCPC means that if a child with a psychiatric disorder needed long-term care, the shift to the Bronx would be a significant hardship for the families involved. 

“Services are going to be so much further,” said Lori Schneider of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Sullivan County. “Families may not be able to visit as often.” 

Cuomo proposed two budgets, one assuming the federal government kicks in $15 billion in aid and the other promising cuts, tax increases and borrowing.

Deep in the 2022 budget briefing book, on page 120, Gov. Cuomo calls for the RCPC to convert to a “comprehensive children’s center...includ[ing] a plan to develop an innovative, voluntary-operated center for children and youth in need of brief, intensive, community-based care.” 

It’s unclear whether RCPC’s future would be affected by the aid-rich budget.

Inpatient mental health care has been a target before. Schneider remembers the early 2000s when the Middletown Psychiatric Center (MPC), which treated adults, was slated for closure. She was on the board of visitors there. They fought it because services were moved an additional hour away. “We knew it would be a hardship for families to visit as frequently, to be a presence,” and to learn how to care for their loved one.

This situation feels much the same, she said. Families should be involved in treatment team meetings and in discharge planning, “as well as being able to physically be there for their children. How many families won’t be able to get to the Bronx at all, let alone as frequently as they could get to Orangeburg?” 

Multiple studies have shown that families stay involved when a member is placed in in-patient care. Residents—kids or adults—aren’t abandoned. And visits are encouraged when the rules permit. (Hospitals often use strong firewalls to limit patients’ internet access, and mobile phone use is strictly regulated. This means that it’s not easy to keep in contact with your child.)

And the more that mental health care becomes community based, the more important it is to keep families involved.

The closures are about “the downsizing of the system,” she said. 

In the 1960s, a serious bed shortage led to deinstitutionalization, and now many people are doing better in community care rather than in an institution. But “there are people who will at one time or another need a long-term hospitalization,” Schneider explained. Community hospital behavioral health units aren’t meant to handle longer stays, which are necessary if a person needs longer to get stabilized. 

And what will happen at the Bronx facility? It would be taking RCPC patients—and the vast region they cover—as well as covering the area it already does. A lot of young people will be fed into one hospital. Some are asking: how many beds would be available to Sullivan County youth if they were needed?

It’s not just about RCPC. Throughout the state, additional mental health beds are slated to be cut. But lawmakers and the worker’s union CSEA have taken up the fight. The issue has bipartisan support.

“The only thing that will be accomplished by moving these beds to the Bronx is the creation of greater hardship on Hudson Valley families,” said CSEA Southern Region President Anthony Adamo in a statement. “We should be expanding services... The state has a responsibility to care for our most vulnerable New Yorkers; closing RCPC and reducing beds would be abandoning them.” 

“The last thing Hudson Valley families should be forced to face right now is further economic insecurity,” said Republican Sen. Mike Martucci. “Albany’s proposal to close Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center—in addition to 200 inpatient beds in the Office of Mental Health system throughout New York state—would not only be a significant loss of good-paying union jobs but also continue the downtrend of accessible mental health services. At a time when mental health challenges are growing across all ages, it is irresponsible to cut these services and the jobs that support them.”

“The proposed closure of Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center couldn’t come at a worse time,” Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Mental Health, said, “Children across the state have been dealing with the effects of COVID-19 for a year, and the administration’s response is to make mental health services more difficult to obtain. It makes no sense. 

“As a registered nurse, I know that the continuity of care means everything to a patient’s recovery. We have to do everything we can to fight back against this short-sighted and ill-conceived plan.”

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