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Ruling in state court buoys supporters of children's psych center

Bolstered by a favorable court decision last week, supporters of the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center are continuing their fight to prevent a shutdown of the West Seneca facility.

Members of the Save Our Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center Coalition are "pleased and gratified" with the decision rendered Wednesday by State Supreme Court Judge Catherine Nugent Panepinto, said Steven M. Cohen, coalition attorney.

Panepinto rejected a motion filed by attorneys for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who wants to shut down the West Seneca mental health facility and transfer the dozens of children served there to a new wing that would be established at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center on Forest Avenue, which currently houses only adults.

"This was a great ruling for the coalition. This judge has proven that she cannot be intimidated by the governor," Cohen said Monday afternoon. "This allows us to continue our battle to keep this great center open for these kids."

The governor's office had no comment when contacted by The Buffalo News on Monday. Cuomo administration officials have maintained in the past that moving juvenile patients to Buffalo would put children and teens closer to needed health care services. They promise that children would be kept away from adult patients on Forest Avenue, which would have separate entrances, treatment areas and recreation areas.

For at least four years, state officials have discussed the possibility of closing the West Seneca facility for children, which is located on East and West Road. Proposals to close the facility are opposed by parents of patients, staff members, former patients and state legislators.

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

Opponents of the plan call it a bad idea to house children – some as young as 4 – in the same facility as adults. State legislators, led by Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, and Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, are fighting efforts to close it. A bill opposing the closure was passed by the State Senate and the Assembly in June.

A petition opposing the governor's plan has been signed by more than 14,000 people, Cohen said.

According to Cohen, the hearing before Panepinto focused on whether members of the coalition have legal standing to fight the closing plan in court.

While Cohen predicted the governor's office will appeal the ruling, Gallivan said he hopes that he, Kearns and other lawmakers can convince Cuomo to change his stance.

"I hope to meet with the governor's staff within the next week or two," Gallivan said. "In the meantime, I'm gratified by the decision and glad there are people in Western New York willing to stand up and support this fine facility and the work that is done there."

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