copied with permission
Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Plan needed for infirmary

By Anthony Farmer
Poughkeepsie Journal

Forty-four 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 this option.

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 reached.

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 building.

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.