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State wants new youth program housed at Buffalo Psychiatric Center

New York State is planning a new inpatient program for children in the controversial spot at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center following a failed attempt to move the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center there.

Families, staff and former patients of the Children's Psychiatric Center and elected officials fought for about five years to keep the state from moving the program from West Seneca to the Strozzi Building at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

They were thrilled in April when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced he had decided to keep it in West Seneca. Families had argued the program worked well in the peaceful setting, and objected to placing children into a facility that also houses adults with mental illnesses.

But Monday's announcement said the new unit will offer something new for children with the dual diagnosis of developmental and mental health disabilities.

“Children and youth with both developmental and behavioral health needs in New York State are currently lacking a level of service that addresses their coexisting concerns,” said Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan.

The state Office of Mental Health and Office for People with Developmental Disabilities are collaborating on the acute treatment unit, which will serve those ages 12 to 17. The unit also will work with a step-down program to help discharged youth adjust to a non-inpatient environment before going home, according to the state.

Patients often seek help in emergency rooms or comprehensive psychiatric emergency programs, but the care does not match their needs, Sullivan said.

"This inpatient unit will provide them with a more focused and specialized level of care that is currently not available in the state,” she said.

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, who fought to keep the Children's Psychiatric Center in West Seneca, said he was encouraged the state is working to provide services that are not currently available.

He said he had been advised the services are different and distinct from the treatment provided at the Children's Psychiatric Center, "which all experts agree is the most therapeutic environment to treat the most emotionally traumatized children." He said he also was told the new facility will have no impact on services provided by the children's center.

But he said he is looking for more details regarding the new program and "why this proposed location is appropriate."

The battle to keep the Children's Psychiatric Center in West Seneca was fought in the legislative chambers, with state lawmakers unanimously passing a bill that would have kept it in West Seneca. The bill was vetoed by the governor. Members of Save Our Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center also took the governor to state Supreme Court in the effort.

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