Weekly Feature

2016-01-14 / Front Page

Psych Center closure about money, say opponents


Joseph Barone, a former patient at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center, helps Assemblyman Michael Kearns place a sign shaming the state in front of the abandoned house at 980 East and West Road. 
Photo by Jennifer Waters Joseph Barone, a former patient at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center, helps Assemblyman Michael Kearns place a sign shaming the state in front of the abandoned house at 980 East and West Road. Photo by Jennifer Waters Another budget season is threatening the existence of the West Seneca Developmental Center and the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center.

Assemblyman Michael Kearns gathered with advocates for the center in front of the abandoned state property at 980 East and West Road on Friday to discuss Albany’s lack of response to his requests.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that the State of New York wants to close the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center permanently so they can RFP the total property and make it an opportunity for a developer,” Kearns said, referring to a request for proposals. “That is unacceptable.”

The assemblyman said he will continue to fight in Albany to save the center and show that members of the community will not stand for blight in their neighborhoods.

Kearns wrote a letter in November asking for an update of the request for proposal that Empire State Development said would be drafted in conjunction with the Office of General Services in an effort to remedy the issue of vacant buildings and group homes connected to the Children’s Psychiatric Center and the West Seneca Developmental Center.

The property in total is valued at an estimated negative $18 million.

Local officials say the property needs to be renovated and put back into use. The state plans to close the facility and transfer the children being treated there to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center in downtown Buffalo.

“This is the budget where we need to make the decision of whether we keep this facility open permanently,” Kearns said.

David Chuddy, a former social worker at the Developmental Center and advocate for the children, said he never thought he would spend his retirement on this issue.

“That place has healed them, has healed their families, and for the last two years we’ve been lobbying, and nobody thinks [closing the center] is a good idea, other than Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Office of Mental Health,” he said.

During his 32 years at the center, Chuddy said the state typically looked to close, combine or merge facilities that are troublesome.

“The Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center by the state’s own data is their top facility for providing psychiatric care,” he said.

The center boasts the lowest readmission rate for children being treated, Chuddy said, which means it has been a successful facility for the state.

“They’re telling us with straight faces that it’s not about the money.

They say they’re going to enhance services for kids. How? By closing this facility and spending $12 million to renovate four floors of the Strozzi building downtown,” he said.

Chuddy said he spoke to three members of the state division of the budget, who told him the state would be able to save $4 million in operating costs by closing the center and moving the children.

“They’re saying it’s not about the money and it’ll be better for the kids,” he said. “It’s a land grab, and they’re sacrificing these kids. It’s unconscionable. The state needs to fix this property and leave these kids here because this is where it works.”

Joseph Barone, a former patient at the Children’s Psychiatric Center, spoke out against the proposed move.

“To have a place that’s suitable for teenagers, and especially for kids, and then move them in with adults. I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said. “This center is designed for kids and teenagers like myself.”

Barone said he spent eight months in the center after numerous hospitalizations.

“It wasn’t until I stayed here that I actually haven’t been back there once. This place has helped me beyond belief, and it wasn’t until I got here that I got the help I need. Now I’m doing much better, and it’s good,” he said.

Chuddy and the officials argued that a low readmission rate saves more money than closing the center would by eliminating extensive, intense mental health care throughout the duration of a child’s adult life.

Kearns said one letter he received in response to the property stated there are “several decisions to be made.”

“That is a smoking gun. The state is holding off on any public input about the Developmental Center so that they can close the Psychiatric Center. That is my belief until someone can prove otherwise,” Kearns said.

Chuddy said the advocates are hoping to stop the closure and the move through the legislative process.

“We need money in the fiscal year 2016-17 budget, and the flip side of that is, although the state said it’s going to go ahead with plans to renovate [the Strozzi building], they don’t have any money in the budget to do the renovations,” he said.

Once stopping the closure of the center has been successful, Chuddy said, the plan is to raise awareness about the effects the center has on children and families.

“The fear everyone has is that this is a land grab,” Chuddy said. “We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing, and we’re just trying to yell louder and longer, and let them know we’re not going away.”

The hope, he said, is that if the advocates can stop the closure for a third time, the state will give up on the idea.

email: jwaters@beenews.com

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