By Michael Virtanen
ALBANY— New York officials plan to overhaul the state's psychiatric services over the next four years by consolidating 24 inpatient hospitals statewide into 15 regional centers and establishing more than two dozen outpatient service hubs.
The consolidation plan released by the Office of Mental Health on Wednesday begins in 2014 and is expected to save $20 million the first year. The state spends about $6.6 billion, including federal funds, annually on mental health treatment.
New York opened its first asylum 175 years ago, and it's time to fundamentally change the way the state thinks about mental health, according to Acting Commissioner Kristin Woodlock. About $1.3 billion, or 20 percent, is currently spent on inpatient care for about 1 percent of its patients, the agency reported. The psychiatric hospital census has dropped to about 4,000 down from 93,000 in the 1950s.
"Working together with communities, we can and will change the outdated and costly way we serve individuals with mental illness," Woodlock said. The plan, which followed a statewide listening tour and more than 2,000 public comments, will expand community services and let individuals and families choose where to get treatment, eliminating current geographic restrictions, she wrote.
Hospital closures or consolidations require one-year notice to state legislators. No layoffs are planned, and OMH will work with employees to transfer or retrain for other jobs, agency spokesman Ben Rosen said.
The 15 regional centers with inpatient hospitals are planned for Buffalo and Rochester in western New York; Syracuse and Utica in central New York; Albany and two in Orangeburg in the Hudson Valley; Brentwood on Long Island; and Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, with two in both the Bronx and Manhattan.
Other psychiatric hospitals in Buffalo, Elmira, Binghamton, Orangeburg and on Long Island will close and consolidate with new centers in 2014, followed by closings and consolidations in Rochester, Ogdensburg and Manhattan the next year, and in Orange County in 2016, according to the plan.
"There's a lot of hubs that will be remaining where the previous consolidations were, such as Elmira, Rochester, Ogdensburg," Rosen said.
New York has far more psychiatric hospitals than any other state and it's been difficult to close them because of legislative opposition over the jobs they provide, though recent authorization by lawmakers enabled the Cuomo administration to move ahead with the overhaul, said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.
"This positions New York at long last to move away from the biggest hospital system in the country," he said, and instead put those tax dollars "into the best community system we can create."
According to OMH, in any given year one in four New York adults has a diagnosable mental disorder, while one in 17 has serious mental illness.