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Public Weighs in on the Closure of GBHC

In 2001, Binghamton resident Carl Cohen had to travel to Syracuse for his son to receive inpatient psychiatric care. On Tuesday, he spoke out so others won't have to.

"Family involvement in that treatment is so essential and it cannot be done from long distance," said Cohen.

Cohen was one of many concerned residents who attended Tuesday's community forum on the planned closure of the Greater Binghamton Health Center and the Elmira Psychiatric Center.

Assemblyman Clifford Crouch says the two facilities serve 15 counties and 1.5 million residents.

He hosted the forum alongside Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo to receive public input and help fight for funding for mental health institutions to remain in the Southern Tier.

"The Southern Tier typically lags behind.  So, you're asking some of the most economically challenged people in the area to drive out of the area to get service for themselves or for their family and that shouldn't be," said Crouch, representative of the 107th District.

Under the states plan, inpatient services for children would be in Utica, adults in Syracuse.

Many who spoke out at Tuesday's forum believe the travel is too  much of a financial burden and will result in fewer children and adults receiving the psychiatric care they need.

"What's going to happen is these kids have a real difficult time regulating their emotions and their going to do something that gets them into the attention of law enforcement or they'll get suspended from school.  Or, they'll just drop out," said Karen Witbeck, treatment team leader in the child and adolescent inpatient unit at the GBHC.

"I find it ironic that we are looking at closing down mental health services and making people drive and when we are seeing more bullying.  We're seeing more suicide.  We're seeing violence, gun violence.  All of those things point to mental health issues," said Crouch.

"If we're going to make a strong case during the budget discussions, that we have to have a certain level of service in the Southern Tier and I think if we're not able to make this fight, we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves," said Lupardo, representative of the 127th district.

Crouch and Lupardo are planning a second community forum to address the planned closure of the Broome Developmental Center next month.

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