(BUFFALO) – Led by representatives from the State Public Employees Federation (PEF) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), the fight to keep the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (WNYCPC) in West Seneca continues Wednesday (February 3rd) in Albany, where advocates will introduce a new model of care during a State Mental Health Legislative Hearing, which they hope will help reverse the governor’s “hell bent” decision to merge the Children’s Psychiatric Center in the Adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
Reviewing the recently unveiled State Budget and its funding for many of its departments, State Legislators are expected to “grill’ State Office of Mental Health (OMH) Commissioner Anne Marie Sullivan on a number of areas, including OMH’s continued position that the WNYCPC be merged into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, despite the backlash it has received from an array of advocates, patients and their parents, and Unions, Dave Chudy - a PEF Retiree and Coordinator of the group - Save Our WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center, tells WNYLaborToday.com (For more, read WNYLaborToday.com’s September 2nd Labor News Report Headlined: Public Isn’t Buying OMH Design Reveal Of A Children’s Psychiatric Center At Adult Buffalo Facility - Looks More Like A New-Style Urban Prison Than Tranquil Center Of Care In Rural West Seneca… OMH Commissioner & Panelists Like ‘Stone Statues,’ Allowing Architect To Field Most Questions – Passionate Patients & Labor Leaders Denounce Proposed Move, Bluntly Ask OMH To “Tell The Truth” Why Its ‘Really’ Needed).
“We’ve tried to schedule a meeting with (Governor Andrew Cuomo), who’s postponed that scheduled meeting three times now. It just seems (Cuomo’s) ‘hell bent’ on closing the Children’s Psychiatric Center. And, quite frankly, we’re ‘tired’ of receiving ‘one year reprieves’ to keep the Children’s Psychiatric Center open in West Seneca. We don’t want to ‘buy’ another year,” said Chudy, referring to such annual edicts that have been issued by the state over the past couple of years. “That why we’ve been working with our locally elected state officials and with our plan to present a ‘new and alternative model of care,’” at the West Seneca facility.
According to a draft report made available to WNYLaborToday.com, the model - called the Children & Adolescent Center of Excellence (COE), would allow children’s behavioral health services to remain at its current West Seneca location, while meeting the goals of the transformation initiative that OMH has drafted. These goals include: cost savings; future expansion of community-based services; and the expansion of prevention services.
COE would provide individualized, comprehensive and coordinated care organized for children and their families, as well as offer services that have been specifically designed for pediatrics and adolescents who are developmentally appropriate. They also include innovative interventions to address complex pediatric problems, according to the draft plan.
As it’s envisioned, COE’s on-site programs and providers would serve individuals with behavioral health disorders, substance use disorders and eating disorders - while offering physical health and rehabilitation service.
This would be the first program of its kind in New York State that would offer services specific to the next generation and overseen by multiple state agencies. There is no place better suited to house pediatric expertise in Western New York than on the campus of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center’s Site, its supporters say.
In addition, the COE plan would run parallel to initiatives from the Medicaid Redesign Team and the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program (DSRIP) to ensure longevity and adherence to system-wide goals, it supporters say.
This proposal will also work to build and highlight the record of excellence and quality outcomes that have been established by WNYCPC, they add, and work to create a center wherein children, adolescents and their families would be treated in a respectful and holistic way.
The concept was floated to the state OMH in early January during a hearing of stakeholders in Albany, Chudy told Your On-Line Labor Newspaper, and the Deputy Secretary of Health actually asked for a formal proposal, which was prepared and finalized by the advocates’ lobbying group.
“We have received support from a number of our locally elected state representatives in the Assembly and Senate, including Robert Ortt, Mickey Kearns, Patrick Gallivan, Crystal People-Stokes, Tim Kennedy and Cathy Young,” Chudy told WNYLaborToday.com.
Local PEF President Stephanie McLean-Beathley, who works as a Social Worker at the WNYCPC and held a one-woman, overnight sit-in at Fireman’s Park across from the WNYCPC back in October to call attention to the state’s plan, was expected to attend the state hearing on Wednesday in order to any questions state lawmakers might ask, Chudy said.
Also in early January, Chudy and CSEA Western Region Six President Flo Tripi co-authored an Op-Ed column that appeared in The Buffalo News and was Headlined: Moving Children’s Mental Health Services Is Poor Public Policy. It read as follows:
We read with great interest the December 6th News editorial, “Moving Children’s Psychiatric Center holds the promise of better overall care.” This emotionally charged debate is still grabbing headlines and heartstrings – and unfortunately the opinion that this option will somehow improve care is nothing more than wishful thinking.
The decision to close the children’s facility in West Seneca boils down to politicians and Albany bureaucrats bowing to special interest groups that want smaller government at any cost – even if that means putting our most vulnerable children in harm’s way. Many federal, state and local lawmakers hide behind the Olmstead Act – a federal law that has been interpreted as a way for policymakers to consolidate and deinstitutionalize mental health services.
This move will not improve mental health services. This move is about shrinking the size of government, meeting departmental quotas and spending fewer taxpayer dollars at the expense of those who desperately need health care. You cannot realistically reduce per-patient cost and at the same time expect to find efficiencies and deliver the same level of health care.
For years now, parents of patients, former patients, activists and academics have all reasonably and rationally countered the Office of Mental Health’s assertions at recent hearings with first-hand knowledge, even-tempered testimony, research and enlightened arguments – but our efforts have fallen on deaf ears. Many parents have stated this move will devastate their families and add barriers to treatment.
The Buffalo Psychiatric Center stopped treating children in the 1960s when doctors developed a better understanding of trauma recovery and that children have specific and separate needs for successful treatment. That is why the Children’s Psychiatric Center was built in the first place.
Whenever the move takes place, families will have reduced access to loved ones while young patients will be housed in a clinical prison-like environment with severely mentally ill adults. State officials say the children receiving care at the Buffalo facility will not have contact with adults – but informed advocates remain highly skeptical.
The fact remains that the West Seneca facility is one of the best in the nation and should remain open. Instead, we are now trying to comprehend why we have government officials who choose policies that are ethically and morally bankrupt.
The best policy solution is one that puts the needs of our most vulnerable citizens first – this move does not.