Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center

Labor Sends Message To Assembly Committee: Merging The WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center Into The Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center Is “Foolish Beyond Description”

Fight to Stop Merger Continues During Standing Committee On Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities Hearing, Speakers From Labor & Young People Who’ve Benefitted From WNYCPC Make Hard & Passionate Case to Keep Facility Open

Published Monday, June 1, 2015 Originally posted on WNY Labor Today
paper hands and a banner

(BUFFALO) – The Fight to Stop the Proposed Merger of the West Seneca-Based Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (WNYCPC) Into the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center Continued Late Last Week During a State Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Hearing That Was Held in City Hall, Where Organized Labor Send a Loud and Clear Message: The Idea Of Merging the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center Into the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center is “Foolish Beyond Description.”

Earlier This Year, the WNYCPC Received a One-Year Reprieve to Stay Open as Public Discussion Continues to Merge it Into the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center.  A Consortium of Groups, Led by Organized Labor, Mobilized Against the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), Which is Still Looking to Move Forward on a Merger of the West Seneca-Based WNYCPC Into the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center That’s Located Near the Buffalo State College Campus.  Those Who Support Keeping WNYCPC in West Seneca Open Have Stayed on Track, Saying There’s “No Need” to Mix Children Into an Adult Psychiatric Center, for Many Obvious Reasons – Noting the Facility in West Seneca is a Tranquil and Sprawling One, Which Helps in the Process of Positively Serving Those Impacted Children.

The Purpose of Last Week’s Assembly Hearing Was to Provide an Opportunity for the Committee – Which Was Chaired by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Who Was Joined by Fellow Assembly Members and Buffalo Area Representatives Mickey Kearns, Patrick Gallivan and for a Short Time, Crystal Peoples-Stokes - to Determine the Availability of Children's Mental Health Services in Western New York and Examine the Impact on Children and Their Families as it Relates to the Potential Closure of WNYCPC.

OMH Commissioner Ann Marie Sullivan Traveled to Buffalo and Was the First to Deliver Testimony on Friday (May 29th) to the Committee.  However, Sullivan Made a Weak Case for Her State Office’s Proposal for Merger, Citing a Meager $4 Million in Overall Savings.  Sullivan Also Underscored the Importance of Providing Young People Served by the Center the Opportunity to “Take Advantage’ of Several Area Cultural Institutions, Including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Buffalo Zoo, as Well as Access to a Major City Bus Line That Runs Outside the Buffalo Psychiatric Center of Forest Avenue.

Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF) President Richard Lipsitz – Whose Organization’s 165 Affiliated Labor Organizations Combine to Represent More Than 135,000 Workers Across the Region - Put it Bluntly in His Testimony, saying:  “The Idea That (the WNYCPC) Should be Moved to a Location in the ‘Middle of a Big City’ on ‘Grounds With Adults’ Seems ‘Foolish Beyond Description.’  The Experience of the Past Two Years Makes it ‘Clear to Me’ That This Move ‘Should Not Take Place.’  Our Member Unions Have Made Clear They ‘Do Not Want to See This Move.’  I Ask You to ‘Stop’ Any Such Attempt.  The Future of These Children May ‘Depend’ on it.” ( Photo Below of WNYALF President Lipsitz Listening to the Hearing Before Giving His Testimony)

The West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center Opened in 1970.  It Serves 19 Western New York Counties and Has Been There Over the Years for a Countless Number of Emotionally Disturbed Children Between the Ages of Four and 18.  As Of Mid-March (2015), the Facility Reportedly Had 46 Inpatients and a Waiting List of 16. 

So, Why Not Keep the West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center Open? 

After all, the Assembly Members Noted it Received a 99% Rating in 2012, as Well as Special Designation in Being in the Top 10% of All Hospitals Accredited by the Illinois-Based Joint Commission Across the United States, and Has the Lowest Re-Hospitalization Rates in New York State Out of All Children and Adult Facilities.  The Joint Commission is an Independent/Non-Profit Organization That Accredits and Certifies More Than 20,000 Health Care Facilities and Programs, Mostly Hospitals, in the Country – Both Public and Private.

Organized Labor Has Been a Major Part of the Save Our WNYCPC Coalition, Including the Public Employees Federation (PEF), Which Represents a Little More Than 100 Workers at the West Seneca Facility, and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), Which Represents Another 80 Employed at WNYCPC.

PEF Local 167 Represents Doctors, Nurses, Social Workers and Professional/Technical Staff Who Work With Children at the WNYCPC.  Union Local President Stephanie McLean Beathley Told the Assembly Members in Her Testimony: “Closing WNYCPC and Moving the Children Back to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center Makes ‘Absolutely No’ Clinical and ‘No’ Therapeutic Sense.  It Means ‘Going Back’ Fifty Years in Time and Ignoring Fifty Plus Years of &lslsquo;Best Practices.’  The Services - and Especially the Environment – at WNYCPC ‘Cannot’ be Duplicated at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.  OMH Has ‘Not Produced Any’ Evidence That Supports Their Proposal That Closure of CPC and its Relocation is ‘Good’ for the Children. They’ve ‘Not - in Good Faith’ - Involved the Community as Stakeholders and They’ve ‘Not’ Displayed Transparency.  They’ve Tried to Present This Terrible Plan as ‘Final’ and Leaving the Community With ‘No Option,’ But to ‘Accept’ it.  What The OMH is Trying to Do is ‘Rob’ a Community of a Highly Successful, Vital State Service by ‘Penny Pinching,’ Which is Clearly a ‘Pound Foolish Scheme’ and a ‘Lie.’  Our Community Will ‘Not Accept Anything Less’ Than the ‘Best’ Because That’s What We’ve Come to Expect.  This ‘Travesty Cannot be Allowed to Happen’ and I Respectfully Ask the Committee to Tour CPC and to Further Investigate the Impact That Reduced Beds and ‘Any’ Relocation Will Have for the Children and Their Families, and the Community as a Whole.”

Retired PEF Local 167 President David Chudy, Who’s Immersed Himself With the Effort to Stop the Merger Between the West Seneca Children's Psychiatric Center into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, Was a Spectator at the Hearing and Later Told “It Doesn’t Matter How Many Millions Of Dollars the State Pours Into the Buffalo Psych Center, You’re Still Going to Have Traumatized Kids on an ‘Adult’ Campus With ‘Adult’ Psychiatric Patients - a Number of Whom are Pedophiles and Sexual Offenders. The Amount of Safety Features and Security Measures They’ll Have to Employ to ‘Protect and Isolate’ Those Kids From the Adults Will Render Them in a ‘State of Benign Incarceration.’  One of the Strengths of CPC is its Location, Especially its Environment, Which is Rural, Peaceful and Nurturing.  Both the Building and Grounds ‘Lend Themselves to Hope.’  Now, Most of These Children are Severely Traumatized, But They’re ‘Not Stupid.’  You Put Them in the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and They Look Out the Windows and See (30, 40, 50, 60-Year Old) Adult Psychiatric Patients Moving About and They’re Going to Think: ‘That’s ‘Me’ in Twenty-Thirty Years.’  Now, Where the Hell is the ‘Hope’ in That? - To say ‘Nothing’ of the ‘Added Stigma’ the Kids Will Feel by Being at the Buffalo Psych Center.”

PEF Western Region 1 Director Kevin Hintz Was Also in Attendance at the Hearing, But Did Not Give Testimony.  Also Speaking on Behalf of the Center and Organized Labor Was CSEA Regional Director Robert Mootry and Several Young People Who’ve Benefitted From the Services Offered at the West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center, Including Marissa Divincenzo of Rochester – a Former WNYCPC Patient said she Has Turned Her Life Around and Now Attends College and Works a Part-Time Job at Tops Supermarket: “They Made Me Feel ‘Normal’ – Not ‘Another Psychiatric Kid’ Who ‘Fell Through the Cracks.’  We Don’t ‘Need’ to be Surrounded by Adults.  It Will Give Them ‘Little to No Hope.’  Wouldn’t ‘You’ Like to Get the ‘Best’ Treatment Available?  I Know What it Feels to be ‘Helpless.’  WNYCPC Can Give Hope.”