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The Hudson River Psych Center closure

The January closure of the Hudson River Psychiatric Center (HRPC) has been on my mind lately as both legislatively and personally I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of its closure.

A fixed institution in our community since 1867, HRPC closed as a cost-saving measure of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the twin houses of the state Legislature. I have been and remain critical of that decision as the wrong approach to mental health care, as well as a wrong approach to cost-savings.

Consistently I have been verbalizing a trend that I’ve observed wherein the decrease in available mental health community support is offset by an increase in public safety expenses as the trans-institution of the mentally ill into our jails grows. Recent studies have examined the fact that so many of our jail inmates in Dutchess County have a psychiatric diagnosis for which the county taxpayer takes up the medication costs.

I also predicted that the closure of HRPC would drive up the county public-safety cost. This year Dutchess County is on track to spend a record $7.5 million on housing out a record number of 235 inmates. There have been 555 year-to-date pre-intakes at the Dutchess County jail by the jail-based mental hygiene legal services.

At our July board meeting, the Legislature approved a resolution to spend $577,818 of one-time start-up spending from the state to bolster our community services. The funding comes from savings the state received by HRPC’s closure. Three nonprofit agencies will receive these funds. Hudson Valley Mental Health (HVMH) and Astor Services for Children and Families will receive the lion’s share to increase staff capacities at their clinics.

This includes hiring three social workers, a licensed practitioner and a nurse. This permits a new satellite office at the Family Partnership Center in Poughkeepsie. Astor primarily serves the children population in or near crisis while HVMH serves to help maintain the stability of the adult population.

The third beneficiary of the new funding will be to PEOPLe Inc., a peer-run agency with which, up until March of this year, I was employed. PEOPLe Inc. will be hiring a consultant to author a report on how best to integrate health and behavioral health services in Dutchess County. Research for this report will come from community summits to be held throughout the fall to design a blueprint for health in Dutchess County.

As readers to this column and constituents to my legislative district know, I am passionate about this subject because I have a family member who struggles with mental health. At the present time she is in her 10th week of hospitalization for inpatient psychiatric care at Saint Francis Hospital. Regretfully, this time around it is taking almost double the amount of time to stabilize her medications.

Because HRPC (which had been located only five minutes away by car) is now closed the hospital is aggressively pushing to free up her bed and have her transferred to the next closest psychiatric institution. This would be on the New Jersey border in Rockland County. The family is protesting — as is the patient — as this will virtually cut her off from family support and from her sense of community.

The closure of HRPC was bad policy. The new funding is a nice gesture toward building up community mental health, but it does little to mitigate the grave injustice against community mental health committed by our governor and the state legislature.

Michael N. Kelsey represents the people of Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.