New York State is planning to close the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center, based in the Town of West Seneca, and move the young patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. Opponents of the idea, including several local state lawmakers, are urging the state's Mental Health Commissioner to meet and discuss what many believe is a bad idea.
It's not the first time Albany has motioned toward closing the West Seneca facility. Numerous Western New York delegates are once again lining up to defend the center and argue the case for keeping it open.
They also want New York State Mental Health Commissioner Ann Sullivan to meet with members of the local community. State Assemblyman Michael Kearns, who hosted a Wednesday news conference in his district office, told WBFO in a telephone interview that Sullivan has been too quiet about the planned shutdown.
"It's just baffling because the commissioner has been non-responsive to the community," Kearns said. "We want her to know, and the governor to know, that this is an issue that impacts many, many people."
Sullivan did appear and speak at a recent budget hearing in Albany, according to State Senator Robert Ortt, who chairs the Senate's Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. During that meeting, he told WBFO, Sullivan stated that it would require $40 million to bring the Children's Psychiatric Center up to standards, while only $12 million would be needed to do the same at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, where the state intends to move the younger patients.
Ortt wants to know how the commissioner came up with those numbers. But he says that the money talk is missing the point.
"The Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center, which services 19 counties, has best outcomes and the lowest re-institutionalization rate anywhere in the state. Clinically, we know what we're doing there works."
What worries supporters of the children's facility is the prospect of putting youths as young as four years old on the same campus as adult mental health patients. They find it to be dangerous and also, as Kearns suggested, a discouraging environment for the younger set.
Strategies in place to attempt a block of the shutdown include the use of Article VII of the State Constitution. In there, Kearns says, are rules defining roles, powers and duties of the governor and legislature in relation to the budget process. He'd like to get language included in the budget that would block Sullivan from proceeding with the center's move.
He is also considering a lawsuit.
Lawmakers pointed out that the state is planning to bring young mental health patients closer to adult patients, while moving forward with a plan to remove teenage convicts from the same prisons as adult convicts.
"So we're willing to raise the age for youth 'adults' who commit crimes, move them out of that setting with adults, but we want to put our most vulnerable in with adults," Kearns said. "It's contradictory and it does not make sense."
Kearns added that his office recently conducted a survey about the future of the children's facility and told WBFO the response in opposition to closing it was swift and numerous.
"In 12 years of being an elected official, I've never had a response of nearly 2,000 people in a couple weeks," he said. "It's unprecedented."