Weekly Feature

2017-02-23 / Front Page

Kearns contemplates litigation in children’s center issue

by JENNIFER WATERS
Editor

Assemblyman Mickey Kearns said he may consider taking legal action, if necessary, to stop the threatened move of the Western New York Children’s

Psychiatric Center from West Seneca to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

Kearns said he has received almost 2,000 surveys from West Seneca residents and concerned constituents regarding the actions being taken.

In the month since surveys went out to the community, 97 percent of respondents said they would like to have a public meeting on the matter, and 96 percent of respondents said they want the state to keep the center open in West Seneca, according to the assemblyman.

In response to this feedback from the community and following testimony given by Office of Mental Health Commissioner Ann Sullivan before a joint budget hearing on mental health Feb. 6, Kearns sent a letter to the commissioner asking to schedule a formal public meeting with the West Seneca community about the center.

“It is irresponsible and inexcusable for Commissioner Sullivan and Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo to ignore this call from the public for more information and instead move ahead with something that could cause significant harm to these young patients,” Kearns said.

Kearns also is asking Sullivan to clarify several statements made during her testimony in response to questions from the assemblyman, Chair of the Senate Committee on Mental Health Sen. Robert Ortt and Sen. Patrick Gallivan. If these questions are not met with a prompt response, Kearns said he is considering possible litigation to stop the closing of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center.

According to the legislators, Sullivan testified that it would cost the state $40 million to upgrade the center at its current location in West Seneca. Kearns said he is asking for documentation of that estimated cost.

Additionally, Kearns said Sullivan testified that moving the children’s center to the Buffalo facility would allow them to serve 1,000 more families. The assemblyman is asking for evidence to support this claim.

Kearns said this information was not made known to him or the delegation prior to the Feb. 6 testimony by Sullivan. The assemblyman added that the basis for these numbers provided to the committee was not made clear.

“When you say you’re closing something that is the best of its kind, shutting down a system that has proven to work, the No. 1 question that has to be answered is ‘Why?’ That question has not been answered,” Kearns said.

He argues that during the process, the commissioner has not provided any medical or clinical evidence as to why this move would be good for the children at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center.

“We owe it to the children and their families to exhaust all possible measures to keep the Children’s Psychiatric

Center from shutting its doors,” Ortt said. “Our vulnerable children deserve to be in a safe environment surrounded by their peers. The Office of Mental Health owes them, their parents and advocates of Children’s Psychiatric more answers.”

“I have yet to hear evidence that closing the West Seneca facility and moving children to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center will result in better patient care or outcomes,” Gallivan said. “Experts determined years ago that children and adolescents do best when they are treated in a setting designed specifically for them. The Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center is among the best facilities in the country and should remain in West Seneca.”

When asked about these concerns, Kearns said Sullivan’s testimony did little to demonstrate that moving the young patients from the calm, therapeutic setting in West Seneca to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center would be in the best interest of these patients.

Kearns said Sullivan additionally has not held public meetings on the issue and has not laid out a plan for the reuse of the current children’s facility, violating New York State’s Mental Hygiene Law.

The assemblyman said he finds it startling that the commissioner continues to push the merger through despite medical evidence, legal precedent and input from patients, families and staff, all stating the concern for negative impacts the move might have on the well-being of patients.

“It appears the ‘run around’ continues when it comes to getting clear information from the Office of Mental Health in regards to the [Western New York] Children’s Psychiatric Center. It is frustrating that such information and reasoning behind an action that will impact vulnerable children across the state is not forthcoming,” Kearns said.

“I will continue to push for transparency from the Office of Mental Health regarding the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center and will urge Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo to put a stop to any such action that closes this valuable facility,” Kearns said. “Simply put, don’t fix something that isn’t broken.”

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