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Mixing psychiatric services for adults, children is wrong

The young woman who wrote the recent My View column describing the life-changing benefits of her time as a patient at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (WNYCPC) is a very courageous individual. Very few among us would risk exposing a history of inpatient mental health treatment. She did so to advocate for the continued existence of a free-standing WNYCPC. We all owe her thanks for doing so.

I retired after a 30-year career with New York State that included over 20 years as a hospital administrator at both the WNYCPC and the adult Buffalo Psychiatric Center (BPC). In the ’70s I worked downstate in another adult psychiatric center, which had an “adolescent unit” that closed when a new free-standing children’s psychiatric hospital was opened nearby. Around the same time, the BPC “adolescent unit” closed when the new WNYCPC opened. This recognized that children shouldn’t be treated in the same environment as adults. That hasn’t changed.

The services and environments required for the care and treatment of the distinctly different populations in the WNYCPC versus the BPC are like night and day. These aren’t acute care psychiatric facilities in a general hospital like Erie County Medical Center, where children and adults are treated on separate wards during short stays. Patients stay at the WNYCPC and the BPC for months, sometimes years. I am intimately familiar with the Strozzi Building at the BPC – I led the redesign efforts in the early ’90s that transformed it into a state-of-the-art facility for intermediate and long-term adult care. It was not designed for the care and treatment of children. Mixing adult and child psychiatric services there may be cost-effective for New York State, but it would be disastrous and immoral. Our Western New York legislators should be ashamed if they let this happen.

Robert Coffey


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