Some of the region’s state lawmakers slathered their palms in paint Friday and then left handprints on a placard urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to keep Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center open.
The state Office of Mental Health, without needing legislative approval, intends to close the center as it consolidates 24 psychiatric facilities into 15 “centers of excellence’’ to save money. With the consolidation, 36 of the Children’s Psychiatric Center’s 46 beds will be moved into wards secured for young people at Buffalo Psychiatric Center, which currently serves only adults.
Meanwhile, the Office of Mental Health intends to expand less-costly outpatient treatment programs – continuing the decades-long shift that has produced uneven results for New York and the nation. Researchers have shown that shuttering psychiatric centers on the promise of community treatment raised the homeless population and thrust thousands of severely mentally ill people into the hands of police, judges and wardens.
Advocates for the Children’s Psychiatric Center, a sprawling one-story building centered on 72 acres in West Seneca, say it offers a peaceful setting that welcomes parents and comforts emotionally disturbed children too unstable to remain at home.
It opened in 1970 because policymakers of that era believed children deserved their own facility and should not be housed on Buffalo Psychiatric Center’s dense urban campus. Today, the children’s center has the lowest readmission rate of any New York psychiatric center.
In a rite of passage, the children are invited to place a handprint and a message on a wall as they depart, usually after about three months, sometimes longer.
The farewells, such as “thanks for getting me through this’’ and “anything is possible if you just believe,’’ are meant to instill hope in the young patients who follow. The legislators were emulating that practice when they placed their handprints on a placard Friday.
“You shouldn’t mess with success,’’ State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, said outside the facility Friday during a news conference intended to display community and political support for a children-only facility. Gallivan and a few other legislators representing mostly Erie or Niagara counties surrounded themselves with about 30 center employees and parents of former patients.
Also attending were members of the West Seneca Town Board and a member of the Erie County Legislature. Those legislative bodies approved statements urging Cuomo to leave the facility open.
“Cramming this facility into one floor at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center is not about excellence. It is about saving money,’’ said Jenny Laney, who works for the Mental Health Association of Erie County and had a child who was a patient in West Seneca years ago.
“Let’s talk about how we can creatively use Buffalo as a center of excellence both at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center.”
“The good work that is done here affects all of the Western New York community,’’ said Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, R-Amherst.
The lawmakers, with Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, said they hope the governor reconsiders and leaves the facility open, as he did recently when he let centers in Binghamton, Elmira and St. Lawrence County continue operating.