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Opposition remains to moving juvenile patients to Buffalo Psychiatric Center

There is still opposition to closing the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center, despite assurances made by the State Office of Mental Health that it has addressed concerns about the state's plans to move juvenile psychiatric patients from the West Seneca facility into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

Last month, the state agency announced that it would begin seeking solicitations from construction companies to do work renovating the Buffalo Psychiatric Center to accommodate the move, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 and save New York about $4 million a year. A local state representative and the head of a coalition opposing the merger of children and adult facilities insist the state has paid only lip service to their concerns.

"We're very supportive of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, but it's not the right place for children," said Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo. "How do you ensure their safety?"

"The elected officials don't support this. The patients don't support this. So why are they doing this. No one can answer that question," Kearns added.

Kearns said he will likely introduce legislation in the Assembly to block the Office of Mental Health's plan to proceed with construction plans at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

Opposition to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan to shut down the West Seneca facility has been consistent since it was first announced in 2013.

Members of the Save Our Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center Coalition have expressed concerns about the safety of co-mingling children and adult patients in one facility. State officials said those concerns have been thoroughly reviewed and addressed in the new plan.

According to state officials, the move and merger will result in improved access to care and increasing the availability of outpatient mental health services. In addition, officials expect to see about a $4 million a year savings as a result of the relocation.

David Rosen, a spokesman for the Office of Mental Health, said state officials have, over the past two years organized an extensive public engagement process to increase the availability of mental health services in Western New York.

"With input from families, mental health professionals, elected officials and labor unions, we successfully developed a plan which expands mental health services, preserves inpatient capacity in a secure and separate setting, saves taxpayer dollars and results in no layoffs. This plan is proof positive that public input was taken into account and used to inform our decision-making process, every step of the way," Rosen said in a statement to The Buffalo News.

The Buffalo Psychiatric Center, located off Elmwood and Forest avenues, also will be a more convenient site for the juvenile patients at the Children's Psychiatric Center, and their families, as a majority of them reside in the city, state officials added.

David Chudy, coordinator of Save Our WNY Children's Psychiatric Center, disagrees with that assessment, though.

"For years ... they've been saying most of the kids at the Children's Psych Center come from Buffalo. Flat-out lie," said Chudy. "It's less than a quarter over the last five years."

Even families that live in close proximity to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center prefer the site of the children's facility in West Seneca, he added.

According to Kearns, 25 percent of the patients at the Children's Psychiatric Center come from Erie County, while 75 percent are from outside Erie County. The patients served at the 113-acre campus are from the ages of 3 to 18 years old, and it is preferred because of its tranquil setting, he said.

"I'm a huge advocate for people who have mental health issues. I have nothing against the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, but when you talk to the (juvenile) patients and they say the look at the adults and they don't feel as though they're going to get better. This is what they're going to become," said Kearns.

"We know that there are sex offenders at (the Buffalo Psychiatric Center). That's one of the concerns I have. And these are Level 3 sex offenders," he added.

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