Weekly Feature

2017-01-26 / Front Page

Psych center merger triggers outcries from Public Employees Federation

Dozens of community activists recently joined members of the New York State Public Employees Federation under a gray sky to protest the closing of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center.

Demonstrators gathered on the grounds of the Civil Service Employees Association Local 425, across from Southgate Plaza, where speakers vigorously opposed the state Office of Mental Health’s plan to close the facility and transfer the children to the all-adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center, as stated in a press release.

Waving signs that said, “We will care for and protect one another,” PEF leaders cautioned that placing children who have been abused, neglected, raped and prostituted into a facility with adults will only cause more trauma in their lives.

“In West Seneca, we give these children hope and a new beginning,” said Stephanie McLean-Beathley, PEF Division 167 council leader, adding that the children — some who are only 4 years old — would not be safe living adjacent to adults with mental health problems, including registered sex offenders.

David Chudy, a former PEF political activist and chairman of the “Save Our WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center” group, spoke passionately about the need to keep the children in West Seneca.

“What arrogance, government telling people what is best for them. I do not know why you would want to close one of the best centers in the country,” Chudy said.

Speakers and supporters, including Assemblymen Michael Kearns and Angelo Morinello and Sens. Jeffrey Klein and Patrick Gallivan, echoed those comments.

“I have had the pleasure of working with families, mental health experts and others who are associated with the Children’s Psychiatric Center for several years and it is clear that they speak with one voice on the importance of keeping this facility in West Seneca,” Gallivan said. “These children deserve and require special treatment in an environment that allows them and their families to feel safe.”

The senator added that moving the children to the adult facility in Buffalo will jeopardize their mental health and well-being, which is why he is urging the governor and the Office of Mental Health to stop the plan and keep the West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center where it is.

Klein said it’s unconscionable to uproot young children, some who have been abused and neglected, from the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center to the all-adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center where there are known Level 3 sex offenders residing.

“As a legislator who supported the creation of Megan’s Law, which created a registry for dangerous sexual predators and prohibits them from residing within 1,000 feet of our children, this is a disastrous move for these youngsters who are trying to get the help they need,” Klein said in a statement.

McLean-Beathley and others urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reconsider the merger plan “for the sake of the children,” as no jobs would be lost.

“We will fight tooth and nail all the way to prevent this from happening,” McLean-Beathley said.

PEF President Wayne Spence noted that the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center is located on valuable land.

“With all the overwhelming negative aspects of moving children from a highly respected facility that has earned a reputation for successful outcomes, the only plausible reason [the Office of Mental Health] is pushing forward with this merger must be a potential land deal,” Spence said, noting that it is time to check public records to see if anyone has requested a survey of the property. He said that would be a telltale sign.

The Public Employees Federation is the state’s largest white-collar labor union, representing 54,000 members working in professional, scientific and technical titles, including 308 members who work at the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center.

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