Radio Show Personalities Slam Proposal to Lay Off Mental Health Workers – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Radio Show Personalities Slam Proposal to Lay Off Mental Health Workers

The “Have They No Shame Award” given each week on Plato’s Cave (WEOS, 87.9 FM) was awarded last night to Gov. George Pataki and Commissioner of Mental Health James Stone

March 14, 2003 GENEVA, N.Y.—The two mavens of politics and media, HWS Professors Iva Deutchman and Linda Robertson, slammed Gov. Pataki and Commissioner Stone for their proposal to transfer or layoff mental health staff at facilities in New York State by April 17. The following is commentary provided by Robertson just prior to the show.

“Even for New York State, not known for political transparency, the effort to achieve by stealth and chicanery a de facto closure of major psychiatric centers–including the Elmira Psychiatric Center which services the Southern Tier–while circumventing several laws and avoiding the budget process altogether is breathtaking in both its boldness and callousness,” Roberstson said.

“Most New York voters and perhaps many legislators will be surprised to learn that Gov. Pataki and Commissioner Stone intend to achieve, by April 17, the transfer or layoff of the doctors, nurses, and staff at major psychiatric centers in the state. Another–and blunter–way of putting it is that the Governor and the Commissioner intend a pre-emptive closure not only of the Elmira facility, but also of the renowned research facility at Hutchings, and the facility at Middletown, which has led the way in community cooperative services.”

“In a memo dated March 11, 2003, the Office of Mental Health (OMH) details the rapidity of the planned closures. On March 17, the OMH will notify potentially affected employees of their options. April 17 is the date when “Transfers of Functions [are] implemented.” The pre-emptive strike will circumvent the NYS Mental Hygiene Act (1997), which requires a 12-month notice and review before a facility can be closed. Obviously, if there is no staff to provide the needed services, the facility is effectively closed. The plan obviously does an end-run around the legislature, removing the control over the budget from the hands of elected officials. Inpatient care currently offered at Elmira would be transferred to Rochester, a four-hour round trip for families who have to travel from Tioga County, but a longer trip for many, because the 10-county area serviced by Elmira Psychiatric Center encompasses 15 percent of the geography of New York.”

“Of the almost 100 inpatients, 18 are children and adolescents. Rochester currently does not serve children under 12; yet they constitute 12 percent of Elmira’s juvenile population. And who are these kids? They are children who have been physically or sexually abused for such a protracted period and to such a horrific extent that they are unable to function as outpatients. For many, the only trusting relationship they have ever formed is with their attending clinical staff, who will, if this Blitzkrieg assault succeeds, disappear from their lives in about a month, while the children suddenly find themselves in a new and strange facility far from their homes.”

“Gov. Pataki argues that these cuts are “necessary” because of the budget shortfall–a shortfall he avoided discussing during his campaign. But, according to Senator Kuhl (R-Hammondsport), Gov. Pataki is “on record” as saying that “the Elmira Psychiatric Center will not close as long as he is governor.” There is no necessity driving this decision. Other remedies are available; notably, his budget proposal does not seek to impose a sur-tax on those who profited from the bubble of the 1990s–the wealthiest New Yorkers.”

“This is the same Governor Pataki who authorized transferring the mentally ill from hospitals to isolation “lock ups” in private nursing homes, run coincidentally by a major campaign contributor. That example of “privatizing” care to the mentally ill ceased when it was exposed to the bright light of day. Today, we learn that millions are being awarded to contractors in Rochester to prepare new facilities for the mentally ill who will be reassigned from Elmira. The closing of Elmira–or any of the other five facilities on the chopping block–is not necessitated by anything other than a Dickensian callousness to the weakest among us. This is all the more despicable given that the mentally ill have little control over their actions and decisions. Governor Pataki and Commission Stone do,” Robertson concluded.

Plato's Cave airs from 6:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays through Hobart and William Smith Colleges' radio station, WEOS 89.7FM / 90.3FM, a National Public Radio affiliate. The program is distributed to more than 700 public radio stations that can access the Public Radio Satellite System. It is also aired via the Web site