Weekly Feature



2016-12-01 / Front Page

Children’s Psychiatric Center to close

Hope lost for state’s ‘vulnerable’
by JENNIFER WATERS
Editor

Advocate David Chudy addresses supporters and members of the Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center following the announcement that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is moving forward with plans to close the facility. Chudy is joined by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, right; Assemblyman Michael Kearns, behind right; Town Supervisor Sheila Meegan, behind left; and other elected officials. Photo by Chuck SkipperPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Advocate David Chudy addresses supporters and members of the Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center following the announcement that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is moving forward with plans to close the facility. Chudy is joined by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, right; Assemblyman Michael Kearns, behind right; Town Supervisor Sheila Meegan, behind left; and other elected officials. Photo by Chuck SkipperPurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com The word “hope” surrounded years of fighting to keep the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center open. Hope for the center’s future, hope for the children receiving treatment at the facility, and hope that the state wouldn’t go through with the decision to close the center.

(See editorial on page four)

Last week, in a press conference on the center’s “Hope Drive,” Sen. Patrick Gallivan and Assemblyman Michael Kearns informed advocates that the governor has decided to move forward with the closing of the center, moving the children currently being treated there into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

The state has issued a construction bid solicitation related to the relocation of the Children’s Psychiatric Center from West Seneca to the grounds of Buffalo Psychiatric Center, where the state Office of Mental Health will build a new children’s inpatient unit, separate from the adult services on the campus, according to a statement from the agency.

“I’m very disappointed and disheartened with this decision,” Kearns said. “This decision is reckless. Even though the Buffalo Psychiatric Center is a secured facility, right now it houses six level 3 sex offenders. That’s where we’re sending our most vulnerable [children].”

The assemblyman said that in 2015, there were more than 100 incidents involving a patient within the Buffalo center leaving without permission or escaping. Earlier this year, police said one such patient attacked a 14-year-old girl who was on her front porch nearby. Kearns said the man choked her and threatened her life and safety.

“Back in the ’60s, the experts determined that children had specific needs and that they needed their own specific setting, and as a result, the children that were being served at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center were moved out to this campus,” Gallivan said.

Since that time, hundreds of children and families have been met with unparalleled service at the children’s center, Gallivan said, adding that the facility has the lowest readmission rate of any psychiatric institute in the state.

Dave Chudy, chairman of Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center, is a former employee of 32 years at the West Seneca Developmental Center, where he served as a social worker.

“Who are these kids, kids who are emotionally, psychiatrically traumatized, to tell the commissioner of mental health they want to stay here?” Chudy said. “We’ve had families look us in the eye and say, ‘If it wasn’t for this place, my son or my daughter would be dead.’”

The Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center, located off East and West Road in West Seneca, serves children from 19 counties across the state in what advocates say is a secluded, safe and nurturing environment.

In 2011, the state chose to close the West Seneca Developmental Center. Since that time, the buildings of this facility have sat vacant, valued at a negative $18 million.

“Several years ago, the Office of Mental Health started talking about making this change. As a result, there was a number of public hearings,” Gallivan said. “At those forums, patients and families spoke up, advocates and mental health professionals spoke up, and members of the community spoke up. Every single one of them spoke in opposition to this move.”

Moving children away from the peace and safety they have experienced at the West Seneca facility into an adult institution in downtown Buffalo for the purpose of saving money is wrong, Gallivan said.

“For some reason, the administration is not listening. We have to make our voice heard,” Gallivan said.

A statement from the Office of Mental Health said the department is moving forward with its plans to expand Western New York’s mental health system, improve access to care and increase the availability of much needed mental health services.

According to the statement, the taxpayer funds saved by the relocation will be used to expand community based mental health services throughout the region, while maintaining the same number of inpatient beds and employing the same staff.

With the additional $3.2 million in total annual funding made possible by the proposed move, the agency said in the statement that it will be able to serve up to 1,000 new children and families in Western New York, strengthen the mental health system, and provide children with the support they need to live happy and healthy lives.

Chudy said the Buffalo Psychiatric Center is a facility for treating adults and that children do not belong there.

“The commissioner is saying that [the children] are going to be safe. Safe is one thing. Healed, feeling peaceful, trying to develop some trust and to get better is another,” Chudy said.

Services and supports for children’s mental health across the state are severely lacking, according to Sen. Robert Ortt, chairman of the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.

“If you ask families about children’s mental health, they would tell you there are very few things that work well. Behind me is one of the things that works well,” Ortt said, pointing to the children’s center. “In typical government fashion, we’re going to find something that works well and break it instead of solving the things that don’t work.”

Ortt said the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center serves children from the ages of 4 to 18 in intensive, inpatient treatments.

“It’s reckless, it’s dangerous, and there’s no clinical reason why we’re doing this. It is the wrong decision, and it’s being done for the wrong reason,” Ortt said. “The administration is making this decision over the objections of every member of the Western New York delegation.”

Ortt said responsibly managing money isn’t only about cutting spending, but spending in ways that are important.

“There is no more proper use of tax dollars than to protect our most vulnerable children, and that’s what we do here,” he said.

For the past three years, the Legislature has worked to guarantee that the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center would remain open. Officials said this is not the end of the fight.

“While this is a sad day, it isn’t the last day. This is not the final word, this is not the final decision. This delegation is united on this issue, and the governor, his administration and the commissioner of mental health need to know that if they plan on moving forward, they will be in for a fight,” Ortt said.

Advocates, former patients, parents of current patients, faculty and professionals from the children’s center were present to show solidarity.

Carly Congilosi, in attendance for the announcement, was a patient at the children’s center.

“I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression when I was 12, and when I was 17, I was a patient at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center. That was in 2011, and this past year I returned to the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center to complete my bachelor’s degree in psychology,” she said.

She said returning to the center was a difficult reminder of how hopeless mental health treatment can feel.

“I thought that things were never going to change, and then they did. Now I’m able to go back and tell other kids, ‘I was here, too; now look where I am. This is where you can be in the future,’” she said.

As a child struggling with mental illness, Congilosi said her diagnosis was overwhelming.

“In the beginning, having a name for what I was struggling with was a good thing, but eventually my illness became my identity. It took a lot of work to learn that I’m a lot more than my diagnosis. I’m a person and I have dreams, and a family,” she said.

“When people see me, I want them to see me. I don’t want them to see obsessive compulsive disorder. I don’t want them to see depression. I want them to see former psychiatric patient. I want them to see a person,” she said.

Congilosi said her experience gives her a right to speak to the lives of others struggling with mental illness, especially children. She feels that the governor does not have this same right.

“I want him to know that my life matters and their lives matter. I am more than my diagnosis, and every single child that has ever been helped at CPC, or will be helped in the future, is more than their diagnosis. Their lives are worth fighting for. Their lives are worth so much more than the money that may or may not be saved,” she said. “There is hope. I was in a very dark place for a very long time, but light has broken through and I’m excited about the future.”

Kearns argues that if the children’s center closes, the amount of mental health supports necessary for children to function will cost much more than the money allegedly being saved.

“This is a dangerous situation with this move,” Kearns said.

During the summer of 2015, two days of testimony were offered at Buffalo City Hall in which more than 20 former patients, current patients, parents, caregivers, mental health professionals and advocates spoke out against the merge and for the benefits found in the children’s center.

“After the children got the help they needed and recovered, they placed a hand print on the wall with a saying to convey to new patients that there is hope. There’s hope for the future, and hope that they will make it through,” Kearns said. “I always envisioned the governor coming and putting his hand print on the wall. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen.”

“Commissioner, governor, I don’t know why you’re digging your heels in and trying to force these kids out of what’s working, but please, stop. Leave these kids alone,” Chudy said.

The legislators are urging residents to call the Office of Mental Health and the Governor’s Office at (518) 474-8390 to voice opposition to the project.

email: jwaters@beenews.com

Return to top