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Residents at the West Seneca Developmental Center are getting much better treatment than they did earlier this year.

A survey by the state Health Department early this month found significantly improved treatment services, management practices, living conditions and quality of care at the center, state officials announced Friday.

The center, beset for almost a year by reports of inadequate client care and unsanitary conditions, thus has met its final challenge in retaining its certification and staving off the loss of up to $30 million in federal Medicaid money.

Improvements were made before the facility lost a dime in Medicaid reimbursement.

"They've really made significant progress," said Ron Byrne, a spokesman for the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. "You really have to give them some credit for bringing the facility into compliance with some challenging regulations. We think they've done a wonderful job."

Thomas J. Lillis Jr., the West Seneca director, was asked what differences could be noticed since the facility first was put on "intermediate sanction" in January. "You would see many environmental improvements from a year ago, and you would see much more active treatment provided to the individuals who live here," Lillis replied.

The facility's problems began in January, when it was cited for deficiencies in its treatment program for individual patients.

That has changed, according to Byrne's reading of the surveyors' findings.

"There's improved continuity of care 24 hours a day, so the evening shift, the night shift and the day shift all know what the goals are for each
client," he said. "There's a more comprehensive approach to active treatment services for every resident of the facility 24 hours a day."

West Seneca's problems deepened over the summer, when a Health Department survey team found unsanitary conditions, residents left unattended for long periods of time and sexual behavior that staff members didn't stop.

Among the conditions cited were flies swarming around residents' faces and clients eating cigarette butts and wearing feces-soiled clothes.

West Seneca administrators apparently used the negative publicity to inspire the staff to make marked improvements.

"The publicity that hit the papers really affected the staff," Lillis said Friday.

"They have a lot of pride, and they were determined to turn this thing around and restore the confidence level of the community. I think we've achieved a real esprit de corps."

Friday's announcement also was good news for Lillis and his team of top administrators.

In August, following the shocking accusations by the state, one angry parent called for Lillis' dismissal and prosecution.

At the time, rumors of Lillis' possible reassignment were widespread.

When asked about that Friday, Lillis replied: "The results speak for themselves. The bottom line is we got the job done."

Byrne added, "I would think the certification of the facility is a confirmation of (the top administrators') abilities."

Among the center's many lifestyle improvements, according to Lillis, are an expansion of the family-style dining program, the addition of a pre-breakfast coffee period, on-grounds movies being shown twice a week, the addition of bingo and roller skating, replacement of much of the furniture, use of an interior decorator to improve color schemes, the use of patio furniture and area rugs and much more privacy.

"It enhances the environment and makes it more home-like," Lillis said.

"We now have a more positive environment for people to live and grow to their fullest potential."

The improvements, however, do not change the timetable for moving residents from the facility to various community residences.

West Seneca, with 772 residents, has submitted a census-reduction plan that would move 230 clients to community residences in the next 2 1/2 years, according to Lillis.

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