By Elizabeth Moore — News & Updates
Currently on the state’s closure list, the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (WNYCPC) is facing a possible shutdown with plans for absorption by the Buffalo Psychiatric Center (BPC), a facility that only serves long-term adult psychiatric patients. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo may soon sacrifice the health and well-being of WNYCPC’s adolescent patient population for what many see as strictly a shortsighted financial decision.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is currently reviewing legislation that would prevent the merger of the children’s facility with Buffalo’s adult center. The Buffalo Psychiatric Center is a crowded, urban setting that would be detrimental to the progress and healing of developing children and adolescents. The children would be subjected to a more restrictive — less nurturing and therapeutic — environment, surrounded by long-term adult psychiatric patients who are themselves recovering. As recently as 2016, an adult outpatient from Buffalo Psychiatric Center attacked a 14-year-old girl, nearly strangling her to death.
Consolidation of this invaluable resource for the residents of Western New York would hamper the recuperation of adult and child patients alike. To protect the children, both children and adults would have restrictions on the days and times they could use recreation facilities like the gym, pool and bowling alley. For their own safety, children would need to be escorted/guarded by adult staff whenever they are walking on the grounds. The exception would be a yard, surrounded by a 14’ fence attached to one end of their residential building. These conditions highly contrast the existing nurturing environment at the WNYCPC.
WNYCPC in West Seneca
Founded in 1970 to treat community children with severe psychiatric problems, the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca remains committed to the recovery of its young charges through therapeutic atmospheres and highly-trained staff members.
This New York State Center of Excellence boasts an impressive record over its almost 50 years open with one of the lowest rates of seclusion and restraint, clearly indicating a better approach to care. In 2012, WNYCPC received a 99.9% rating by the Joint Commission and was given a special designation as being in the top 10% of accredited hospitals in the nation.
Currently situated on 72 acres of park-like land, the 110,000-sq. ft. facility was specifically designed for children and youth with severe emotional problems. The WNYCPC provides a therapeutic setting for children to heal and grow with its own gymnasium, school, pool, and interior courtyards, guaranteeing patients can safely move about with ample private family visiting areas. The Children’s Center is also home to a service dog, Tommy, who often spends time comforting the emotionally fragile children.
Consolidation’s Effects on Healthcare Delivery and Access
Many of the WNYCPC patients, all between ages 4-17, have serious mental illnesses and suffer from severe emotional trauma. Some have, in fact, been abused by adults. Squeezing these children into four floors of Buffalo’s eight-story institutional building will greatly encroach on their space to develop and will diminish their quality of life experiences as children.
The WNYCPC builds and nourishes hope in their child patients — instilling a hope that they can and will heal. And through getting better, these children may return to their homes and families, schools and neighborhoods, and go on to live productive lives in their communities.
Although the state may allocate funding to dress up the facilities at the Buffalo location, these children will see beyond the revamped interiors and develop a different impression of their recovery. Looking out from their bedroom windows and around the grounds, they will inevitably encounter a wide range of long-term adult psychiatric patients, some well into their 60’s. Surrounded by an adult population still unable to rehabilitate from institutional treatment, how will this impressionable, young population perceive their feasibility for reintegration into their community?
The degree of oversight required to separate children from the adult population at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center would trap these traumatized and emotionally fragile patients in a near lockdown atmosphere. If this merger is successful, this would be the only psychiatric facility across the entire state where children would be housed and treated in the same building as adult psychiatric patients. All of the aforementioned circumstances for integration of these two populations at the Buffalo facility paint a picture of an environment absent of hope for these children.
The Fight to Keep WNY Children’s Psychiatry Center Open
Led by Assemblyman Michael Kearns and Senator Patrick Gallivan, and supported by a bi-partisan alliance of more than 90 elected officials on the local level, legislators are urging the governor to reconsider the facility’s relocation. In August 2017, Assemblyman Kearns and Senator Gallivan’s sponsored bills to keep the facility open. The bill passed unanimously in both the Assembly and Senate, and is presently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.
The Western New York Children’s Center also has overwhelming community support from individual residents and various faith-based organizations. The petition to keep the WNYCPC open has received more than 15,000 signatures from people throughout Western New York.
Additionally, a group of advocates are suing Governor Cuomo and State Mental Health Commissioner Ann Marie T. Sullivan to halt the transfer of child psychiatric patients to BPC. State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto recently denied a motion to dismiss the litigation, allowing the lawsuit against Cuomo to proceed and temporarily preventing the merger.
How You Can Help
Approached by an Affiliate of the American Health Council, currently employed at WNYCPC and morally unsettled by the tragic circumstance facing the center, the AHC has initiated its own Change.org petition to garner further support. The AHC hopes to assist the movement ensuring that these already distraught children receive the highest recovery potential and are not further disadvantaged. Please make this a legislative priority for Governor Cuomo by joining others in signing the petition:
Most importantly, “Save Our WNYCPC” is seeking donations to cover their steep legal representation costs in their battle with the state. You can learn more about the movement and the status of the legislation on their website: http://www.saveourwnycpc.org/
Please provide “Save Our WNYCPC” with assistance for their legal defense fund via GoFundMe:
Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, Assembly District 142, is currently accepting petition submissions with a mail-in form on his website:
Assemblyman David DiPietro, 147th Assembly District, has an online petition open accepting submissions on his website:
The AHC also welcomes Affiliate comments, concerns, and suggestions concerning this issue. Please share any thoughts or similar experiences with healthcare access and delivery obstacles. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the American Health Council:
The American Health Council is the nation’s only organization with a constituency representative of all sectors of the healthcare industry. From the coasts to the heartland, the American Health Council has drawn Affiliates from major metropolitan hubs and small communities. These Affiliates span generations and have reached different stages of their careers — from recent graduates to retirees. More information about the American Health Council and its mission can be found at: http://americanhealthcouncil.org.
Additionally, the American Health Council strives to provide recognition and support for those individuals and institutions making the difference in patients’ lives day in and day out. Throughout 2017, the AHC is honoring “America’s Best Doctors and Nurses,” as well as the nation’s best medical universities and hospitals. The American Health Council’s “Best in Medicine” and “Best in Nursing” awards programs honor the individuals and institutions that have contributed significantly to medicine and nursing, as well as the training and education of physicians and nurses. The most current selections for these honors may be viewed here: http://bestinmedicine.org and http://bestinnursing.org.
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