(BUFFALO) – It Was Billed as a Public Forum Hosted by the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), Which Took the Opportunity to Unveil its Capital Design Plan for a Children’s Psychiatric Center to be Housed at the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center – Despite Months of Public and Patient Backlash That There’s No Real Need to Move the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (WNYCPC) From its Sprawling, Wooded and Tranquil Center of Care in Rural West Seneca Into a Urban Location Where Adults are Also Housed.
Yet, Despite the Backlash, OMH Continues to Move Forward in its Planning Process for Consolidating WNYCPC With the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center. But the More Than 60 People Who Attended the First of Two Public Forms to be Held at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on the Campus of Buffalo State College Tuesday Evening (September 1st) Came to Voice Their Opinion That the New Design Looked More Like a New-Style Urban Prison, School or Day Care Center With High-Rise Buildings and 14-Foot-High Fences When Compared to the Calming and Tranquil Area Where the WNYCPC’s Been Located for the Past 45 Years.
And for Most of the Evening, OMH Commissioner Ann Marie Sullivan and Three Other Panelists Sat Like Stone Statues, Instead - Allowing the Architect of the Project to Answer Most of the Questions and Concerns Voiced by Former WNYCPC Patients, Their Parents, Community Activists, State Elected Officials (Including Western New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan, Who Once Again Made Public His Stance on Not Moving WNYCPC to Buffalo) and Officials From 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.
And – When it Was Finally Revealed by OMH Commissioner Sullivan – Many Saying for the First Time, Including Senator Gallivan - That the Overall Cost of $11.5 Million to $12 Million for the New Children’s Buffalo Facility Was Roughly the Same Cost to Renovate the Existing Facility in West Seneca, Those at the Public Forum Got Angry.
And - They Got Angrier When it Was Shared in a Give-and-Take Session Between Those Attending the Forum and the Panelists That Individuals at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center Had Confided to Them That the Move From West Seneca to the Inner City Was Being Made So Additional State Dollars Could be Leveraged to Improve the Adult Facilities at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, Which is Located on the Same Campus With the Currently Being Renovated H.H. Richardson Complex – Which Will Eventually House a Hotel and a Museum.
“Tell Us the Truth,’” said Emotional Parent-Advocate Melanie Porter, Who Previously Delivered Testimony Held During a State Assembly Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Public Hearing on Children’s Mental Health Services in Western New York in Buffalo’s City Hall Back in Late May (See WNYLaborToday.com’s Labor News Story, Headlined: 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).
Earlier This Year, the WNYCPC Received a One-Year Reprieve to Stay Open as Public Discussion Continued to Merge it Into the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center. A Consortium of Groups, Led by Organized Labor, Mobilized Against OMH, Which Nonetheless Still Wants 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 Campus.
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. At Last Report in Late Spring, the Facility Reportedly Had 46 Inpatients and a Waiting List of 16.
On Another Front, the WNYCPC 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.
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 – Again - the Facility in West Seneca is a Tranquil and Sprawling One, Which Helps in the Process of Positively Serving Those Impacted Children.
However, Sullivan – as she Did During the May Assembly Hearing in Buffalo Which she Attended - Made a Weak Case for Her State Office’s Proposal for Merger, Citing a Meager $4 Million in Overall Savings, Which she said Would be Used to Help an Additional 500 Families Seeking Such Services Across the Region.
Newly-Elected PEF Statewide Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Hintz, Who Previously Served as PEF’s Western Region Director, Told the Panelists: “(PEF) Represents (52,000) Professional and Scientific State Employees, Including (4,200) Members Here in Western New York. (Other Facilities) Don’t Have the Staff or Facilities to Do What They Do at WNYCPC. WNYCPC Provides Treatment and They Offer it in a Setting That ‘Cannot be Matched’ at the Buffalo Center. If You’ve Been There it’s a Peaceful, Welcoming Rural Setting With Lots of Open Space, Trees and Wildlife. Let’s ‘Not Make the Mistake’ of ‘Previous’ Generations. Let’s ‘Not Rush’ to Close This Great Facility. PEF Supports Keeping WNYCPC Open in its Present Location. Co-Location is ‘Not’ a ‘Best Practice.’ ‘Cross-Training’ Staff ‘Does Not Work.’ Please Do Not ‘Short-Change’ the Children! Please Do Not ‘Short-Change’ the Adults! Children ‘Do Not Belong’ With Adults at an ‘Adult’ Facility. Let’s All Join Together to Fully Support Each Facility in Doing ‘What it Does Best’ - Providing ‘Dedicated Services’ and ‘Treatment’ to Adults at BPC and to the Children and Their Families in West Seneca.”
David Chudy, Who Has Served as Coordinator of the Save Our WNYCPC Group and Who is a Retired PEF Member, Was Both Emotional and Angry While Addressing the Panel, Quoting a State Post First: “A Series of Four Meetings (Were Held) With Concerned Citizens Associated With the WNYCPC as Part of the Planning Process for the Proposed Consolidation of Children’s Services on the BPC Campus.” – This Was From the BPC June Monthly Report. This is a ‘Gross Misrepresentation’ of the Committee Members. Only Four of Twenty-Eight Invitees Were ‘Not Either Directly’ on the OMH Payroll (Local, Regional or From the Albany/Central Office) or Receive Funding for Their Agencies ‘From’ OMH. Even the ‘Sole’ Youth and the ‘Sole’ Parent Invitee ‘Work for’ OMH-Funded Agencies - and ‘Each’ Expressed ‘Concern and Reticence’ About ‘Speaking Frankly.’ These Were ‘Not’ Community ‘Stakeholder’ Meetings, as the BPC Director Has Called Them. They Were ‘Stacked-Holder’ Meetings. Although the Erie, Chautauqua and Monroe County Departments of Mental Health Were Invited and Participated, Niagara County – the County Which Next to Erie Sends the ‘Greatest Number’ of Children to CPC – ‘Was Not Invited’ to Participate.’”
Continued Chudy: “WNYCPC Already is a ‘Center for Excellence.’ The ‘Environment’ is ‘Key.’ You ‘Cannot Replicate’ CPC’s Welcoming, Nurturing, Hope-Filled Therapeutic Environment at Buffalo. You ‘Simply Can’t.’ You Propose Building a Fourteen-Foot-High Wire Mesh Fence From the Forest Avenue Side of the Strozzi (Building, Which OMH Proposes House the Children), Loop it Around Some Grass and Trees to Connect With a Second Building, Creating a One or Two Acre ‘Yard or Pen’ for the Kids to Move Around in. You Then Want to ‘Decorate’ This Fence With Matting That Looks Like Some Kind of ‘Natural’ Vegetation So the Kids ‘Can’t See’ the Adults (Housed Within Their Facility) and the Adults ‘Can’t Watch or Stare or Gawk’ at the Kids. Terrific! How ‘Nurturing and Normal’ is That! And, by the Way, That Fence You’re Claiming is ‘Unclimbable’ - So as to ‘Assure’ Families and the Community of the Kids Safety? Well, CPC Has a Fence Like That and Several Kids Have Scaled it.”
Also There to Speak to the Panel Was Newly-Elected PEF Statewide Vice President Peter Banks From Syracuse, Who Voiced His Concern for the “Privacy and Security” of the Children. He Noted OMH’s New Design Lacked Covered Walkways for the Children, Who Would be Forced to Battle Buffalo’s Harsh Winter Conditions, as Well as the Fact That Three Floors Above the Children’s Floors in One Building Would Provide a Direct View of the Children by Those Adults Receiving Treatment From the Upper Floors. While a Special Coating Would be Adhered to the Windows to Stop the Adults From Watching the Children, the OMH-Contract Architect Admitted There Would be No Covered Walkways on the Campus.
Craig Speers, Who Oversees PEF’s Western Region Retirees’ Group, Also Spoke to the Panel, Telling Them “No Design Can Replicate West Seneca – That’s the ‘Bottom Line.’” “I Don’t Know of ‘One’ State-Elected Official – Democrat or Republican – That Supports This Plan and it is ‘Not Reflective’ of the ‘Will’ of This Community. This is a ‘Colossal Waste’ of State Dollars. Haven’t You Learned ‘Anything’ Over the Past (45 Years – When the State Moved the Children From the Buffalo Psychiatric Center Out to West Seneca),” Speers said.
Speaker After Speaker Denounced the OMH Plan as “Not Making Sense” and Categorizing it as “Not Good Stewardship.” However, if a Bit of Levity Was Needed to Lower the Heat on How Everyone Felt, it Was Delivered by the Young Brother of a WNYCPC Patient Who Reasoned With the Panel: “You Would Have to Release Hundreds of Deer on This Campus (to Begin to Replicate What West Seneca Offers) – and That Would be ‘Dangerous.’”
The Save Our WNYCPC Organization Mobilized Prior to the Hearing With its Members Lining Up Outside the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Holding Up Signage That Implored the Public to Join With Them to Stop the Proposed March to Move West Seneca to Buffalo.
A Second OMH Hearing to Detail the Department’s Capital Design for a New Children’s Inpatient Site at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center Was Scheduled for This Evening at the Same Location.