The move of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center from West Seneca to the grounds of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center is proceeding, but that hasn’t prevented two legislators from trying to stop it.
Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns Tuesday asked for a federal investigation into deaths at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Law show an “astounding 76 deaths” at the center from June 30, 2013, to March 31, 2016, said Kearns, a Buffalo Democrat. But there is no information on the causes of the deaths, he added.
“I find these numbers shocking, and I believe there needs to be a unbiased, neutral and objective investigation,” he said. “I believe that the state can’t investigate itself. There are people dying.”
The state Office of Mental Health disputed Kearns' assertions about deaths at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, saying there have been 13 deaths on the campus in the three years, and all were due to natural causes. Eight of the deaths involved people treated as outpatients, according to James Plastiras, a spokesman for the office.
"Unfortunately, the assemblyman has chosen to grandstand instead of double-checking his facts," Plastiras said in an email.
Kearns and state Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, have fought the closing of the Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca and the move of the staff and program to the grounds of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Buffalo Tuesday said the new location for the Children’s Psychiatric Center to the Buffalo site, off Elmwood and Forest avenues, will be “bigger and better” than the current facility.
“It will be more capacity, more services, more security, more protection,” Cuomo said during a meeting with Buffalo News editors and reporters.
The new facility would be “state of the art” in a building that will keep children segregated from the adult patients, state officials said. And children being treated in West Seneca will be able to finish their treatment in the current facility, added Cuomo’s budget director Robert Mujica.
The current facility in West Seneca has limited capacity, is “very old” and “needs tens of millions of dollars of rehabilitation that we can’t afford,” the governor said.
The move of children psychiatric patients from West Seneca to Buffalo has generated fierce opposition. State officials believe the Buffalo Psychiatric Center will be a more convenient site for the juvenile patients and their families, as well as being able to serve more children with the savings from closing the West Seneca site.
Those who are opposed, including family members, former patients and staff, believe changing the rural setting to a city location will change the program. They worry about contact between children and adult patients, although the state has said there will be separate entrances.
About 25 percent of patients at the West Seneca center come from Buffalo, while the rest come from surrounding towns and counties. There are 46 beds in West Seneca, while the Buffalo Psychiatric Center has 152 beds. The average daily population at the two sites in January was 35 children and 145 adults.
Kearns noted Cuomo signed legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility to provide young people with appropriate facilities and rehabilitation.
“So I say to Gov. Cuomo, why aren’t we doing this in the mental health system?” Kearns said.
He said he and Gallivan worked hard to get legislation passed to keep the Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca.
“But we had one roadblock through that, and that was Gov. Cuomo,” he said.
The state has issued requests for proposals to rehabilitate a building on the grounds of the Buffalo center, where children will be segregated from adults. The awarding of a bid is “imminent,” Mujica said.
The renovations are expected to cost about $12.5 million. Closing the West Seneca center will save at least $3.2 million annually, according to the Office of Mental Health website.
Kearns said that about $6 million had been appropriated in previous state budgets for improvements to the West Seneca facility.
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