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Judge gives hope to supporters of West Seneca children's psychiatric center

A state Supreme Court justice has temporarily ordered Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo not to veto a bill that would keep the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center in West Seneca.

Judge Catherine Nugent Panepinto also ordered the state to temporarily stop construction and related activities on the planned move of the Children's Psychiatric Center to the grounds of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

The temporary restraining order was good news to the Coalition to Save the Children's Psychiatric Center, a group of patients, former patients, family members, community activists and health care providers who filed a legal challenge to the governor and state mental health commissioner. Members of the group believe the West Seneca location is highly effective and provides a soothing, therapeutic atmosphere for patients, and that juveniles should not be in the same facility as adults.

Cuomo administration officials maintain closing the West Seneca center 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. A governor's spokesman did not respond to a request for a comment on the temporary restraining order.

Panepinto scheduled a hearing in the matter at 10 a.m. July 27.

State Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, and Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, sponsored bills to keep the center in West Seneca that were unanimously passed in both houses.

But the bill has not yet made it onto Cuomo's desk. When it does, he would have 10 days to veto, sign or do nothing with the bill, in which case it would become law.

“We applaud Justice Panepinto for having the courage to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Steven M. Cohen, the attorney for the coalition.

Cohen argued that the governor is responsible for enforcing state laws, including the mental hygiene law, to provide the necessary quality of care to child mental health patients. The governor first proposed the move four years ago, and preparations have already started at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, according to court papers.

"I’m hopeful Gov. Cuomo will take this action as yet another indication to sign the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center bill, which passed unanimously in the Assembly and Senate and needs to be signed into law immediately,” Kearns said.

Supporters sue to keep children's psychiatric center in West Seneca


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