September 4, 2002
Plan needed for infirmaryBy Anthony
months and counting. That's how long it's been since the former Dutchess County
infirmary was closed. And, at long last, county lawmakers are getting around to
deciding its fate -- and that of the programs still offered in the shabby,
deteriorating buildings there.
Nearly a year ago, County Executive
William Steinhaus suggested creating a county services center on this slowly
decaying property near Millbrook. That alternative was supported by a county
planning department report. The Washington town board voted in April to urge
Now the Legislature is getting the message. As it should -- largely rural
eastern Dutchess needs a county presence that's closer than Poughkeepsie.
This year, lawmakers put together a legislative subcommittee that held
three public hearings, but reached no conclusions. The subcommittee eventually
formed a citizens committee, asking it to seek a consensus on what should be
done with the 100-acre property. But the committee chairman, Hamilton Meserve,
R-Amenia, issued a final report last week saying a consensus could not be
But don't despair. There are plans to introduce this month a bill to
authorize creating a county services center on the site. It has good bipartisan
sponsorship in Meserve, Margaret Fettes, D-Union Vale, and David Kelly,
R-Pawling. To say the least, the Legislature ought to pass the measure.
Better conditions found
Still, at least one good thing has happened this year. The county's mental
health outpatient treatment program was allowed to move out of absolutely
deplorable conditions in the west wing of the infirmary building, and into the
much safer and more attractive north wing.
Yet St. Francis Hospital still operates a counseling center in the same
west wing, and there are county health department offices in another dilapidated
Some local residents have expressed concern that a county services center
would lead to more traffic entering the property. But that's unlikely, since
there are no plans to offer anything besides the programs already there. Still,
residents need to be kept in the loop as plans mature.
In 1998, the Legislature moved with amazing speed to close down the
infirmary, smoothly working to place residents in private nursing homes, and
making at least some effort to help employees find jobs elsewhere.
But since then they have let nearly four years drag by without finishing
the other half of their responsibility: finding a new use for the property. They
should complete this task as soon as possible.