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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Keep making the case"

ALBANY, Nov. 4 -- “It is only that she is in the Elmira Psych Center that she is alive today. They have done a wonderful job with her. You have people that are caring, loving and really trying to help her.”

“It was the hardest six months of my life. I have not seen the inside of a cell since. I did not spend my time in and out of jail. If I had, I would have just learned to be a better criminal.”

The statements above – the first from a mother whose 28-year-old daughter is under the care of the Elmira Psychiatric Center (Elmira PC), and the second from a graduate of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility whose life was turned around by the time he spent at Monterey years ago -- go a long way toward crystallizing the fundamentally important work facing so many of us across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes right now in the nuts-and-bolts, everyday effort to promote, protect and strengthen our individual communities.

The first quote comes from testimony at a Senate Mental Health Committee hearing I hosted last Monday on the future of the Elmira PC, and the second was delivered at our most recent “Saving Monterey Shock Rally.” For the foreseeable future, we have to stay focused on two Cuomo administration plans: one to shut down inpatient services at the Elmira PC (as well as diminish the facility’s overall role within the state’s mental health system), and the second to close the Monterey Shock facility in Schuyler County.

Two important updates – and two key points -- on this front.

On October 26th at the National Soaring Museum in Elmira we held a second “Saving Monterey Shock Rally” that drew hundreds of supporters to help show the Cuomo administration that the local stake in saving Monterey is active, it’s coordinated, it’s strong and it’s not going anywhere.

And last Monday at the Senate hearing in Elmira we heard similarly powerful testimony from local government leaders, Elmira PC officials and employees, current and former Elmira PC patients and family members, regional law enforcement, and local and statewide mental health advocates on the facility’s importance to regional mental health.

Both of these events served to reiterate two critical points that deserve to stay front and center stage in the weeks and months ahead.

Point one: cost effectiveness. We can, and we will, rightfully keep on highlighting the cost-effectiveness of the Elmira PC and Monterey.

For example, the Elmira PC is the state’s highest-rated facility (by the state’s own standards) in key areas including cost-efficiency, short length of inpatient stay and low rate of readmission. The bottom line is that because of the Elmira PC it currently costs the state just $3.65 million to effectively serve an 11-county region. What will the cost be to mental health care recipients and their families if they’re required, like they will be under the Cuomo administration’s plan, to drive three hours to the nearest so-called center of excellence? If the Governor truly wants excellence, it makes no sense to close the state’s most excellent psychiatric center.

Turn the page to Monterey, and we know that shock facilities have saved the state over a billion dollars. Additionally, the participation of Monterey inmate work crews in numerous community service and enhancement projects across a four-county region here at home during the past six years alone has saved local communities and taxpayers upwards of $6 million! A significant amount of these costs would otherwise have been borne by the property taxpayer.

So the Cuomo administration can go ahead and keep on billing these moves as fiscally necessary for New York in the long run, but it’s important that we continue to let Governor Cuomo know that they do not make any fiscal common sense at all. It appears hard to improve upon the Elmira PC’s record of fiscal responsibility. The same holds true for Monterey.

But in the end this goes well beyond dollars and cents. It cuts to the core of the quality of New York State’s systems of mental health and correctional services.

Point two, then, is programmatic quality. We can clearly make the case that the Elmira PC has been and remains an irreplaceable lifeline for thousands upon thousands of patients and their families throughout the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and western New York. And we can easily show that the staff of Monterey, past and present, has turned around numerous lives that were once at a dead-end but that, today, are productive and successful. Again, the state’s own standards rank the Elmira PC as No. 1 in adult inpatient mental health care; and inmates that complete the shock incarceration program at Monterey have the lowest recidivism rate. These facilities truly save lives.

But we’ve got our work cut out for us to keep making the case.

Two efforts remain available on a daily basis. On my Senate website, in the left-hand column of the home page, you’ll find links to two online petitions that have already drawn thousands of supporters to the causes of saving the Elmira PC and Monterey. These online petitions (together with additional paper petition drives underway) offer a way to keep showing the powers-that-be in Albany (in this case, Governor Cuomo) that our support is strong, it’s unified and, maybe most importantly, that we believe there’s a strong case to be made to reverse these decisions to close.

So we keep on questioning and examining these plans from a fiscal and programmatic perspective. We continue to raise our concerns and keep urging the Cuomo administration to find better ways to achieve the short- and long-term goals we share without putting local jobs and economies at risk, or diminishing the effectiveness of criminal justice and mental health care in New York State.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869