Now that a bill that would keep the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center in West Seneca has passed the State Legislature, two local lawmakers are urging the governor to sign the bill.
"Sign the bill, save the children," said Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo. "It's not hard governor."
The Assembly passed the bill unanimously on Thursday. The Senate had previously passed the bill unanimously on June 5.
The facility on East and West Road has been threatened with closure for four years. The governor's plans to move the center and its programming to the grounds of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center have been met with fierce opposition by staff, families, former patients and elected officials.
Administration officials maintain closing West Seneca and moving the juvenile patients to Buffalo would put them closer to a range of community-based health care services. They said children would be kept away from adults there, with separate treatment areas, entrances and recreation areas.
The state was seeking bids earlier this year on $12.5 million in work as part of the estimated $22 million price tag for the merger.
"They do great work for adults, but it's an institutional setting and it is not appropriate for kids," State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, said of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. "Research showed that years ago, which is why the kids were moved off that campus. Our effort now is to get the governor to sign this."
Cuomo's office did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
Families and former patients oppose the merger of the two psychiatric facilities, saying it would not be beneficial to the young patients, many who stay about two months at the West Seneca facility. Some have expressed fear that children would come in contact with adult patients and not be safe.
The bill would prevent the merging of the children's center with the Buffalo Psychiatric Center by amending state Mental Health Law. The bill prohibits the co-location of the two, and requires the children's center to be operated as a separate and distinct entity, both organizationally and physically.
Gallivan said legislators were able to delay the mergers by getting funding in three state budgets for the children's psychiatric center in West Seneca. Funding was included in the State Senate and Assembly budget bills again this year but it was taken out of the budget before the final version was adopted. That's when the campaign to save the center on 72 acres in West Seneca again went into action.
"It really doesn't make sense," said Pat Dobson, a retiree who worked at the children's center for 12 years. He said the natural setting helps the process of healing.
Kearns urged the governor to visit the center, which he said has the lowest rate of reinstitutionalization in the state.
"We should not be commingling adults with children. Remember, these are children as young as 4 years old," Kearns said.
The two lawmakers are hopeful the governor will not veto the bill, and urged residents to contact the governor's office to ask him to sign it. Gallivan said he would talk to the State Senate majority leader if that occurred, and Kearns said there has been some discussion about overriding vetoes in the Assembly.
Gallivan also suggested the renovations to the Buffalo center continue, but that the area planned for children be used instead for an inpatient treatment center for those with opioid addictions.