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I am writing in regard to Gov. Pataki's recent disclosure that the entire 89-acre site of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center is being opened up for potential redevelopment.

This was done without regard to the services now being provided to the 240 inpatients, 100 clients living in the outpatient facilities and 600 outpatients who return to the grounds daily for programs and treatment.

While deinstitutionalization is the goal when possible, it is simply not conceivable for all patients. The center provides a secure environment for the mentally ill requiring a higher level of care and also insures the safety of the community.

Loss of this vital facility will mean a loss of programs for outpatients currently in the community. Lack of follow-up services will lead to relapses in illness and patients will fall victim to the revolving-door syndrome.

With the recent passage of Kendra's Law, there will be a need for more inpatient psychiatric beds, the alternative being the streets or prison.

Mental illness is a health problem that affects children as well as adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental disorders represent four of the 10 leading causes of disability for people age 5 and older.

They are major contributors to one of the most preventable causes of death: suicide. Mental illness can be present in many forms, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, manic-depressive illness, panic attacks, anxiety disorders and paranoid schizophrenia.

Our society has an ethical responsibility to care for those who cannot help themselves. Our community has prided itself in supporting "state of the art" health-care facilities.

Let's support this one, and send a message that it is time to start treating mental illness as a health problem, not a social problem.

Theresa J. Carbone, R.N. Buffalo

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