Weekly Feature

2017-07-20 / Front Page

Restraining order halts children’s center move


In the seemingly ceaseless battle to keep the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca, a court has ordered Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Mental Health Commissioner Anne Marie Sullivan to temporarily stop all construction and related activities at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

(See editorial on page four)

According to Attorney Steven Cohen, the temporary restraining order is in response to a lawsuit filed July 12 by the Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center Coalition.

Cohen is the attorney for the coalition.

Cuomo and Sullivan plan to close the West Seneca center and move its patients and programs to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, which houses adults. Cohen said in a statement to The Bee that the move has been opposed by not only local, county and state legislators, but patients, families, staff, mental health professionals and community groups, who cite medical and safety concerns.

State Supreme Court Judge Catherine Nugent Panepinto has directed the order so that the governor is temporarily restrained from vetoing legislation that was passed unanimously by both the Senate and Assembly, blocking the closure of the center.

Assemblyman Michael Kearns said the measure, known as the “One House” bill, was passed first in the Senate, with guidance by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, before being passed in the Assembly. It has not yet been sent to Cuomo.

“We would like confirmation prior to him receiving the bill that he’s going to sign it,” Kearns said.

While Kearns is seeking some indication that Cuomo will support the bill, advocates for the West Seneca center are working to build a case in the lawsuit.

Kearns said both the Senate and Assembly requested that the West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center stay in the state budget.

“The governor took it out of the budget,” he said. “That was the impetus of us doing the legislation.”

Kearns said the decision by Panepinto is another step to save the children.

“We have the support from the entire New York State Legislature, the community, and now we have support from the courts,” he said.

The assemblyman said he is hopeful Cuomo will take the matter seriously and immediately sign the bill into law.

According to Cohen, Panepinto’s order states that the governor and commissioner are also “temporarily restrained from taking or allowing or directing or permitting any renovations to take place at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center that are directly related to the possible relocation of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Cent er.” Additionally, no steps to discontinue or relocate the children’s center are permitted at this time.

In his efforts to gain support for the center, Kearns has received certified resolutions from municipalities across the state urging the governor to keep the center open in West Seneca.

To gain evidence of the state’s network of support for the center, Kearns has been sending out surveys regarding the children’s facility.

Since the survey began, nearly 3,200 responses have been received by Kearns’ office, with only two negative results.

“This shows the governor that there is support for the facility beyond the legislation, patients, unions, but from the public as well. The survey is giving the public a voice in the matter, and it’s a direct voice to Albany,” the assemblyman said.

As the survey results near Kearns’ original goal of 5,000, the assemblyman said he is pushing for 10,000 responses.

Kearns said advocates for the children’s center deserve accolades for fighting for so many years.

“Without the advocates, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Kearns said. “It’s in the governor’s hands. With the stroke of a pen, he can protect our most vulnerable population.”

Some believe the years-long fight for the West Seneca center is coming to an end. Not Kearns.

“Working with the patients and children over the past four years, and getting to know them, makes me want to fight even harder,” he said. “It’s not over.”

A full hearing on the matter will be held before Panepinto at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 27, at 92 Franklin St., Buffalo.

email: jwaters@beenews.com

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