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April 10, 2014

Closing means more travel for patients, relatives

By Denise Richardson The Daily Star
Cooperstown Crier

---- — The pending closure of Bassett Medical Center’s inpatient psychiatric unit will mean more travel not only for patients but also for relatives, according to NAMI of Otsego County.

Bassett announced Friday that it plans to discontinue its inpatient psychiatric services in Cooperstown because of provider shortages. Bassett has notified the state Office of Mental Health and awaits approval of the plans, possibly in a week or two, officials said, and services will be maintained during the interim.

Without local inpatient psychiatric services, patients will have to go to programs or facilities in other cities, such as Binghamton or Utica, officials said.

Local law enforcement officials have raised concerns about increases in travel time that officers will face to take mental health patients to hospitals outside the area. Meanwhile, four-county mental health officials are working to implement a Mobil Crisis Assessment Team to provide early intervention services and to be ready when the Bassett unit closes.

A 2013 study by the Healthcare Association of New York State reported 58 percent of hospitals and health systems surveyed, excluding those in New York City, reported a shortage of psychiatrists, according to Bassett officials.

The Otsego County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has “real concerns” about the impact of the pending closure at Bassett, said Ginnah Howard, a spokeswoman for the local organization. While travel times to other facilities will increase for patients, police and relatives, she said, opportunities and time for family members to visit and speak with staff caring for patients will decrease.

Howard said responding to mental health crises will be addressed at a panel discussion at 7 p.m. April 22. “From Crisis to Recovery: One Step at a Time,” will be presented at the Morris Conference Center at the State University College at Oneonta, but part of the program will need to be adjusted to reflect the Bassett announcement, Howard said.

The April presentation is a follow-up to the Crisis Intervention Training program in November sponsored by Tri County Forensic Services of Rehabilitation Support Services and NAMI of Otsego County. Forty participants from law enforcement agencies and other groups in Otsego, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties attended the training.

Howard said Lt. Douglas Brenner of Oneonta police has been a “great liaison” between the department and the local mental health community.

Brenner has reported that police responded to 56 calls this year regarding mental health services, and of those cases, in 22 resulted transports to Bassett Medical Center. Last year, police had 225 such calls and took patients to Bassett 77 times, he said.

Last week, the American Psychiatric Association said that improving police responses to people with behavior disorders is of growing importance in the mental health community and the criminal justice system.

The association’s Psychiatric Services journal reported on a study of a crisis intervention team model, in which police officers received 40 hours of specialized training to become first responders to calls involving people with mental illness.

The CIT model, a collaboration among law enforcement, advocacy and mental health communities was developed in 1988 and has been implemented in about 2,700 police departments nationally, the APA media release said, and the study reported the training was effective.