WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: Pictured above, representatives of Organized Labor - including the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and the Public Employees Federation (PEF), took part in a news conference that was held Tuesday (November 22nd) outside the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca to criticize the New York State Office of Mental Health’s (OMH) back door announcement that despite a third straight yearly reprieve it remain in West Seneca, the state will move forward on plans to merge the children’s facility into the adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center, which houses high-level sex offenders. Union Officials, elected officials from the state and town joined with an array of community activists to pledge that the fight to keep the center in West Seneca is not over and that it will not be over until the state changes its stance on the merger. (WNYLaborToday.com Press Conference Photos & Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center File Photos)
(WEST SENECA, NEW YORK) - Even though countless individuals have testified to the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) as to why the West Seneca-based Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (WNYCPC) should not be merged into the adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center – as well as the fact that area State Lawmakers have successfully worked with a variety of community activists, Labor Unions and the families of children who’ve been treated there to get three consecutive years of closing reprieves, OMH went back door late last week with an 11:30 p.m. e-mail to elected officials, telling them it was moving forward on a merger that no one across the region has publicly supported or has positively spoken out on.
And hours before those concerned parties and elected officials gathered to hold a news conference outside the WNYCPC in West Seneca, Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence told WNYLaborToday.com in a telephone interview from Endicott, New York that he “has his suspicions” as to why the OHM is so hell bent on merging a children’s facility into an adult facility, which houses a number of high-level sex offenders in a harsh urban setting, instead of a tranquil, suburban, wooded one.
“I ‘have my suspicions,’” said Spence, whose Statewide Public Sector Union represents 100 Workers at the WNYCPC. “I think there are people who ‘want the land’ (that the center sits on). And I think ‘it’s time to check the public records to see if anyone has requested a survey of the property and whether or not it’s been done.’ That’s a ‘tell-tale’ sign. ‘What else could it be?’ I ‘wish I knew the real reason, because this makes no sense’ to move children into an adult facility where there are sex offenders.”
OMH’s announcement also noted it is seeking Request For Proposals (RFPs) from construction companies for the renovation project at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center to accommodate the movement of the children – some as young as four years old – to the adult facility. OMH Officials - who told The Buffalo News work it is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 - say the merger will result in improved access to health services, in addition to $4 million a year in savings as a result of the relocation.
However, the group Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (www.saveourwnycpc.org/) made WNYLaborToday.com aware that it had come to their attention that OMH Commissioner Mary Sullivan “took $6 million out of an account earmarked for renovations for WNYCPC and added $6 million” for the Buffalo project. State elected officials who participated in the news conference were not aware of the transfer of funds and could not immediately say whether or not such movement could be done without some kind of first approval.
Spence, meanwhile, also told WNYLaborToday.com that he has fears the state might ultimately want to “privatize’ the children’s psychiatric facility.
“If this is their ‘end game, we will fight it,’” he told Your On-Line Labor Newspaper. “However, the governor (Andrew Cuomo) has ‘final say on all of this.’ I know he has ‘so many things going on (in the Western New York Region) involving infrastructure (and construction projects) and ‘bringing back jobs.’ (If Cuomo’s unaware of what is going on with the children’s psychiatric center), ‘his people are giving him bad advice’ (to merge it).”
Spence’s observation was echoed at the West Seneca news conference by a host of elected officials, community activists and Labor Leaders – which included: Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Western Region Six President Flo Tripi, whose Union represents 89 Workers at the WNYCPC; PEF Statewide Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Hintz, who lives in Western New York; and Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center Group Chair David Chudy, a retired PEF Official.
“I am ‘very frustrated and angry’ and I am ‘angry with our governor,’” Tripi (pictured below) said at the news conference. “Why would you ‘want to change this?’ This is an ‘incredible place’ that ‘should not be moved’ to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. This is of ‘great concern.’ The governor is ‘making a big mistake and I will tell him that to his face.’ CSEA will ‘fight’ for the families (who use the center) and our Members and PEF’s Members, who work very hard.”
Chudy (pictured below), who detailed several instances of mental illness in his own family, spoke very passionately - and voiced anger at times, while speaking at the press conference: “I ‘have been here too many times’ (in recent years). What ‘arrogance’ - ‘government telling people what’s best for them.’ I ‘do not know why you would want to close one of the best centers in the entire country’ ‘Kids don’t belong with adults.’ The staff in Buffalo is telling us ‘off the record’ that ‘they don’t want kids (in Buffalo).’ This is ‘crazy.’ (New York State) ‘What are you doing?’ ‘You need to listen to the people!’ ‘Leave these kids alone!’”
Republican State Senator Patrick Gallivan, Democratic Assemblyman Mickey Kearns and GOP State Senator Robert Ortt, who chairs the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee, continue to stand in bipartisan support of keeping the children’s psychiatric center in West Seneca. They were joined by a number of other state and local elected officials, including Democratic State Senator Tim Kennedy and Town Supervisor Sheila Meegan.
Gallivan (pictured below), who called the news conference, said he received an e-mail announcement from the OMH at 11:30 p.m. on Friday (November 18th). “This is ‘how (elected officials) found out about this,’” an angry Gallivan said. “Everyone we’ve talked to - from mental health professionals to those in the community - ‘say this is wrong.’ And for ‘some reason, this administration is not listening.’ I am ‘very troubled by this.’ You ‘cannot measure the hope’ (of what this center provides those it serves). And ‘it will be lost by moving it into the city, in a setting that is surrounded by a fence.’ Those kids will see the adults there and they’re going to ask: ‘Is this going to be us when we grow up?’ ‘We will do everything in our power to make sure this facility stays open.’”
Said Kennedy (pictured below): “There is ‘no good reason’ to move this campus. This is a ‘boneheaded’ move. We are ‘all going to fight together,’ this ‘entire’ Western New York delegation, and ‘do everything in our power to reverse this decision.’”
The WNYCPC, which opened in 1970, 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, the facility had 46 inpatients and a waiting list of 16.
In addition, 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.
Despite this and the fact that the local state delegation was able get the State Legislature to include funding for a third straight year for the WNYCPC in the 2016-2017 budget, keeping it open until the end of March 2017 - OMH still stands firm on its mission to downsize the number of psychiatric centers in the state, which was first unveiled back in July 2013 and when all learned of its plan to move WNYCPC and incorporate it into the adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center, despite continued public and patient backlash that there’s no real need to move the Children’s Center from its sprawling, wooded and tranquil base of care in rural West Seneca into a urban location where adults are also housed.
In a sharp editorial, the suburban Bee Newspapers ran an editorial earlier this year, which read in part (www.orchardparkbee.com/news/2016-08-04/Editorial/Lies_must_stop_for_future_of_WNYCPC.html):
The story (OMH Commissioner Mary Sullivan) tells is one of unnecessary spending, wasted funds, poor quality service and the promise for a safer future.
The reality is that everything these children have come to know as their haven will be taken away, along with their hope for a peaceful future.
Arguments for why the center should remain open for the children have fallen on deaf ears at the state level, with legislators joining in the lines of advocates knocking on the door and demanding answers.
Instead, these dutiful public servants received the same information as everyone else: No information; No answer as to when the center will close or what it will take to keep it open; No indication of whether the budget will spare the center one more year, or if there are funds available for a fruitful decade of service.
Instead of embracing the center and the children it serves, the state has become yet another nightmare chapter in the lives of those seeking help.
The Office of Mental Health has become a bully, beating down children who have already become so small many of them no longer have a voice.
The scope of mental health care and the stigma attached to adults in need has become such a suffocating image that parents no longer can stand by and wait for a verdict on treatment for their children.
Despite the view on the horizon, advocates and the Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center will not give up the fight. They will continue to be the last line of defense until the end.
Back at the West Seneca news conference, 23-year-old Carly Congilosi - a former patient at the WNYCPC who now works with the Erie County Mental Health Association, told WNYLaborToday.com, ironically under a street sign named HOPE (pictured below): “This ‘breaks my heart.’ Do the ‘lives of the kids inside this center not matter (to the State of New York)?’”
Asked by Your On-Line Labor Newspaper what she might tell Governor Cuomo if she had the chance, Congilosi did not hesitate: “Every ‘single kid in there’ is ‘more’ than their ‘diagnosis.’ They ‘deserve hope.’”