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* This article first appeared in The Times Herald-Record on February 16, 2001. Used by permission.



Psychiatric center closing plan opposed by workers

MIDDLETOWN: The region needs the services provided by Middletown Psychiatric Center, critics of Gov. Pataki's plan say.
   By Jay Stapleton
   The Times Herald-Record
   To maintain accreditation, the aging Middletown Psychiatric Center would require $34 million in capital construction, including a new power plant, state officials say.
   Critics of Gov. George Pataki's plan to close the 149-bed facility in three years aren't so sure.
   "It would cost maybe $2 million," said Diane Hewitt, president of the Civil Service Employees Association Local 415, which counts as members many of the center's 400 workers.
   Hewitt was joined by legislators and union leaders for a tour of the facility yesterday. The group of more than 10 paused in front of Tuckerman Hall to share their plans to oppose Gov. George Pataki's proposal to save money by closing the facility.
   "It should not be closed," said state Assemblyman Jake Gunther, flanked by union leaders. "It should not be the pawn of budget negotiations."
   Gunther plans on holding public hearings to question the proposed closing. "I'm not going to let it close," Gunther said.
   "I think the governor does have a duty to explain why he wants to close this facility," said Orange County Legislator and Middletown native Jeff Berkman.
   The governor and State Office of Mental Health officials have made clear their plans to save money by consolidating mental- health services for inpatients $64 million statewide.
   Locally, Pataki's plan calls to move inpatient services to an existing facility in Rockland County. Workers will be offered transfers elsewhere. Outpatient services will not be interrupted, state officials say.
   "We would prefer to direct our resources where they are most needed," said Roger Klingman, an OMH spokesman. "Especially when we have renovated space available at Rockland."
   Much of the money saved a net savings of $28 million, plus $6.6 million in annual operational savings at Middletown will be reinvested into local community programs and to rehab the Rockland facility, the state says.
   Critics of Pataki's plan to save money by closing the long downsized Middletown facility off Monhagen Avenue doubt if the community will ever see that money. Especially those who are mentally ill - people who need the money and services most.
   "Where's that $34 million going to go?" said Carmine DiBattista, CSEA's region president.


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