By Caitlin Neumann
Family members and advocates alike keep asking these disheartening questions, as we have been since we first heard of the proposal to close the West Seneca Children’s Psychiatric Center: Why are we the only children’s facility still planning to close? Why are we being taken out of a therapeutic environment and thrown into the middle of a city? Why don’t we have a voice?
If you ask a young person, a parent and an advocate what they first think of when they hear of the Children’s Psychiatric Center, they will all say the same thing: hope. There is a reason that CPC has the lowest reinstitutionalization rate in New York, and it’s quite simple. Why? Because it is invaluable.
There are so many details that help to create what hundreds of children know as the safe haven that is CPC; it’s not simply a facility. When you turn onto Hope Road and drive to the building, you’re greeted by deer and geese, adding to the serenity of the campus. When youths look out their bedroom windows, they’re comforted by the nature surrounding them, offering a sense of protection from the busy world just beyond the trees. “I don’t want to go somewhere where I can look out my window and see people having fun and going about their normal lives,” a patient at CPC said. “It’ll make me feel like I’m stuck in a prison cell.” CPC has done an excellent job in working to decrease stigma surrounding mental health.
Merging with the Buffalo Psychiatric Center would create more potential for an increase of stigma within the community. We do not want to institutionalize our youth and make them feel segregated from society, and that’s what the city location will do.
When discussing the merger, another youth felt disheartened. “They’re throwing us with the adults because they don’t really care about us.”
Patients at CPC and those who have been discharged feel as though we have lost our voice, and that this is a step backward in system redesign. CPC has provided an environment that is safe and therapeutic, trauma informed, as well as patient and family centered; pillars that create the foundation of the campus of CPC. That cannot be replicated in the city.
“I’ve been to other hospitals and I like CPC more because it feels like a home away from home,” another youth stated. “The handprints made me feel safe when I first came here.”
The handprints of former patients and their families cover the walls of the building with messages of hope, strength and recovery. These handprints show that CPC instills a sense of hope within a child who was once hopeless, helpless and lost. They leave with a sense of empowerment and a continuation of support. Please visit the website saveourwnycpc.org for more information and to take action.
Caitlin Neumann is peer youth mentor for the Mental Health Association of Erie County.