June 8, 2012

Central New York psych facility to add ward, 30 jobs

6-8-2012 New York:

As inpatient wards brace for closure at Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, a new ward is being opened at a state sex-offender facility in Marcy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said Friday that the facility at Central New York Psychiatric Center is adding 30 jobs, which will be offered first to employees from Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center who stand to lose their jobs.

“As we make needed adjustments to New York’s mental health system, it makes sense that these qualified and experienced workers be given the first opportunity to fill these new jobs at the Central New York Psychiatric Center,” Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said.

In February, the Office of Mental Health announced the inpatient wards at Utica’s Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, with their 71 patients and roughly 140 employees, would be closed. Many of the patients would go to Hutchings Psychiatric Center in Syracuse, while some others would go to state-run outpatient facilities.

Formal layoff notices are slated to go out July 24.

Public Employees Union spokeswoman Sherry Halbrook said it is a positive that there are jobs available that could require similar skills to those being lost. When asked if some Mohawk Valley Psychiatric employees might not want to work with the sex offenders, she said that depends.

“It requires a very special kind of individual to devote their professional life to helping the mentally ill,” she said. “A person who has that motivation will often do jobs that most of the rest of us might be reluctant to.”

Sex-offender facility

The jobs at the sex-offender facility might pay slightly more than those being lost at Mohawk Valley Psychiatric.

About 700 people already work at the Marcy facility, and the addition of a new ward will bring that total to about 730.

The Marcy center and two others like it in the state were created in 2006 amid growing concerns that violent sex offenders were being released after completing their sentences but likely could offend again.

Under the law, sex offenders deemed likely to repeat their crimes can be civilly confined in non-prison settings until it is determined safe to release them.

When the program first started, about 180 offenders were placed in facilities statewide. Today, there are about 250, figures from the state Budget Office show. A breakdown of the numbers at Marcy was not immediately available.

In 2006, it cost about $225,000 per year to house each offender for a total cost of $40.5 million a year for the program, Budget Office spokesman Morris Peters said.

Today, the program has been streamlined, so the cost per inmate is $175,000, for a total annual cost of $43.8 million, Peters said.

The Office of Mental Health, which oversees the program, did not respond to calls or emails. It oversees both the Utica and Marcy facilities.

More growth possible?

Many states have civil confinement laws for sex offenders, but they have caused controversy. The constitutionality of confining individuals against their will after they have served prison sentences went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2010, it was upheld in a 7-2 ruling.

It’s no surprise that the Marcy facility is growing, one professor who deals with sex offenders said.

Fred Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and founder of the Johns Hopkins sexual disorders clinic, said in states that have had such programs in place longer than New York, inmate populations are increasing steadily.

“They come in, but very few come out,” he said.

State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, said they were glad new jobs were coming to the area, but said they won’t compensate for the ones being lost in Utica.

“These are two different equations,” Griffo said, pointing to the different nature of what the facilities do.

And Brindisi said the needs of local people with mental illnesses, who are not sex offenders, still are being hurt by the closure of Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center.

“The area is underserved in terms of those needs and closing the wards will exacerbate the problem,” he said. ..Source.. by ELIZABETH COOPER

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