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WNY Children's Psychiatric Center to remain in West Seneca

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has decided to keep the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center in West Seneca, administration officials said Tuesday afternoon.

The decision ends five years of protests, demonstrations and pleading by families, former patients, staff and elected officials to keep the highly regarded center on the campus known for its sprawling lawns and wooded areas.

"It's clear the will of the community to keep the operation going as it is," one official told The Buffalo News.

The administration had planned to move the Children's Psychiatric Center to the grounds of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, which is undergoing renovations. The move was to take place in 2019.

The children’s area was to be on four floors in the south wing of the Strozzi building, with its own stairs and elevator. The entrance was to be separated from the adult entrance by a wall.

But supporters of the West Seneca location strongly objected to placing children in the same building with adults.

Lawmakers urge state to keep Children’s Psychiatric Center open

Two local legislators took the lead on the bipartisan political fight for the West Seneca site -- Republican Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan and former Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, a Democrat.

"I'm thrilled," Gallivan said.

Gallivan also said, in a statement, that the center "rates among the top facilities in the country in treating children undergoing significant mental trauma in a safe, tranquil environment that gives them hope."

"I think it’s a miracle for the children who will be able to stay separate from adults in a park-like setting," said Kearns, who now serves as Erie County clerk. "We needed a miracle, and I did pray to Father Baker on Sunday at Easter Mass."

Members of Save Our Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center are in state Supreme Court to force the governor to keep the center in West Seneca. Their attorney, Steven M. Cohen, held a news conference Tuesday to announce he had asked the state comptroller to investigate the governor and his motives for moving the center.

"This is huge," Cohen said, after hearing the news. He said it would bring an end to the court case.

Two administration officials, speaking on background to The News, said an official announcement is expected to be made within days or weeks. They said the plan had been to announce that the center would remain in West Seneca, and the new use for the renovated Strozzi Building, at the same time.

But since the renovations will not be completed until next year, there is time to decide how the space will be used.

Gallivan said he will work with the administration to come up with the best alternative for the site.

Capital upgrades are needed in West Seneca, which prompted the state to move the program to Buffalo. The state had said the savings realized by moving the program would allow it to serve an additional 500 children and families with alternatives to hospitalization. The services to those additional children will continue, even though the program will not move, the administration officials said.

"We remain committed to the community and providing the very best mental health services we can," one official said.

The prolonged fight to keep the center in West Seneca led to the state Senate and Assembly unanimously passing legislation last year that would prevent it from moving; the governor vetoed that legislation late last year. Cuomo said in his veto message in late November that the state had already invested about $5.1 million in the new facility, which is about 25 percent finished.

The change in thinking went under the radar in the recent budget process, and no changes are needed in the budget until next year. The renovations at the Strozzi Building and the increase in services to children and families were already budgeted.

Many patients credited the peaceful atmosphere of West Seneca with their recovery.

“One of the most important things in my recovery was having the peace and serenity, that quiet peaceful feeling. It was really important to me at that specific facility,” said Lydia Gaskin of Angola. “It was very comfortable. You didn’t feel like you were in a facility when you were there. It felt kind of homey.”

David Chudy, a member of the coalition to save the center, said families will be overjoyed.

"If your kid needed intensive care, where would you rather put him?" Chudy said. "I'm probably going to start crying."

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