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Sagamore Saga Rages On 

Employees and labor union representatives stand outside Farmingdale State College’s Roosevelt Hall Sept. 9 after a public hearing on the facility’s pending closure. Sagamore employees are proudly sporting black T-shirts that say “Save Sagamore.”

As New York State Senate hearings on the potential closure of various children’s mental health facilities winds down, tensions are rising over what is left to do in the fight to “Save Sagamore.”

Following a series of public hearings held by the State Senate Standing Committee On Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities where parents and experts testified, grassroots attempts to rally the state have surfaced in the Dix Hills children’s psychiatric center’s defense.

Sinking their teeth into the four-month window of opportunity before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office proposes a budget in February, the Save Sagamore organization, Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and residents of The Greens at Melville have come together in their respective official capacities to bring attention to the looming threat of the center’s closure.

In July, the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) announced plans to “merge” 24 long-term, in-patient care facilities throughout the state into 15 “Regional Centers of Excellence” (RCE). Should the Sagamore center close in July 2014, the closest childhood treatment facility or RCE offering in-house treatment would be located either in the Bronx or Queens.

Children from Sagamore – which has 54-in patient beds and last year treated 160 children with psychiatric issues – would be consolidated into the Greater New York Children’s RCE, comprised of youths from Brooklyn, the Bronx, New York City and Queens with 172 beds in Queens and the Bronx.

Dr. Dennis Dubey, former executive director at Sagamore who worked with the center for 36 years, said there is still a window of hope that the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will restructure the state’s OMH proposal.

The RCE plan as a whole, Dubey said, is not necessarily a bad plan—it’s just bad for Long Island.

“I don’t know if they’re going to have an epiphany, but…there’s definitely enough time for the legislature to put pressure on the governor’s office to revise this [plan],” Dubey said.

Unable to attend the Sept. 17 hearing at Farmingdale State College and feeling compelled to speak on Sagamore’s behalf, Dubey testified at the Middletown, N.Y. state senate hearing on Sept. 19. The psychologist said that last year, the Governor’s office at the last minute decided against cutting over $6 million in funding for the Office of Developmental Disabilities and restructured his budget to preserve those services. Dubey hopes a similar scenario will play out for children receiving services from the Dix Hills treatment center.

“It’s not to say that the plan as a whole is a bad plan for New York State OMH, but the aspect of it where it’s disproportionately cutting the children’s beds is bad for Long Island. They wouldn’t have to throw out or revise the whole thing to save Sagamore, but I believe the money could come from somewhere if the governor’s office agrees to change that target,” Dubey said.

Cuthbertson offered legislation at Tuesday’s town board meeting urging Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature to make Sagamore an RCE and continue to offer services through the Dix Hills facility.

“There aren’t any similar facilities close by and these people who have children or family in need of those services are going to have to travel great distances to be with them,” Cuthbertson said on Monday.

According to Barbara Schnall, former chief of service and cabinet member at Sagamore who is now a resident of The Greens at Melville, said she and several Greens residents are in the process of forming a committee to preserve Sagamore.

Sagamore, which Dubey described as a “beautiful facility” that blends in with the character of the surrounding neighborhood, lies between Half Hollow Road and Altessa Boulevard, a main residential stretch of the private Greens community.

Residents of the Greens, Schnall said, are content with having Sagamore as a neighbor. As a former employee of Sagamore and presently a neighbor, Schnall said defending the status quo is an issue of importance for some who live in the 55-and-over development.

“There’s always scuttlebutt when these things happen… People fear what they don’t know,” Schnall said. “They’re good neighbors and we would like to keep them as our neighbor.”

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