The day before they are discharged from the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center, patients can leave a handprint on one of the walls as inspiration to let other patients know that they, too, can get better.
Now that New York State is planning a $30 million investment in the facility, those who fought to keep it in West Seneca are celebrating with more handprints.
"An absolute complete turnaround and re-commitment to the facility," said Dave Chudy, a member of the group formed to save the site. "Who would have believed it?"
The state announced last April the center would remain at the West Seneca location with its sprawling lawns and wooded areas, and would not move into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. The plan to move the program into several floors of the Strozzi Building at the Buffalo facility first surfaced in 2001. It resurfaced about six years ago, and the state said the savings realized by moving the program would allow it to serve an additional 500 children and families with alternatives to hospitalization.
Supporters of the current site mounted a campaign, including a lawsuit, to keep it in West Seneca. The April announcement that the program would remain was cause for celebration.
And celebration turned to jubilation when word went out late last month that the state Dormitory Authority had issued a request for proposals (RFP) for an addition to the center, which was built in 1970.
The handprints are a symbol of how the families, former patients and supporters feel about the program that treats children and youth with severe emotional problems.
"Seeing that handprint gave us hope there was life past a mental health diagnosis," said Catalina De la Espriella, whose daughter was treated at the center.
De la Espriella is a member of Save Our WNY Children's Psychiatric Center, which fought plans to move the program. The grass-roots group bought a large buffalo sculpture with money left over from its campaign. It stands in the lobby of the center, and has been adorned with handprints of supporters, family members and former patients.
"The Children's Psych Center saved our family," said De la Espriella, whose daughter had severe depression and anxiety and several suicide attempts. "After four months, they gave us back not just our daughter, but our family."
Her daughter's handprint is on the wall, but Natalia, now in college, wanted to come back to place her handprint on the large buffalo sculpture Saturday morning.
As part of the renovation, the state plans to replace the inpatient units and support services wings.
"The $30 million project will add 48,000 square feet to the facility to provide welcoming, bright and therapeutic environments for the children we serve,” the state Office of Mental Health said in a written statement.
"This follow-through is an exclamation point on the state's commitment," state Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma said.
Gallivan, who helped lead a bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to keep the center in West Seneca, said the renovations would help ensure the viability of the center well into the future.
The existing 46-bed facility presents "significant supervision problems," and the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems have exceeded their normal life expectancy, according to the RFP. It said the addition will be multistory with single bedrooms, bathrooms, group/visiting spaces, and secure outdoor recreation areas.
Renovations also are planned in the existing educational and administrative spaces.
"The new addition for WNY CPC is intended to be a healing center for highly traumatized children. As such, the design is expected to be welcoming, and include inviting colors, natural light, quiet spaces, soft lighting, and acoustic control. It must be unobtrusively secure, and easy to supervise," according to the RFP.
The existing inpatient units and support services wings are to be demolished.
"We’re thrilled, we didn’t expect it. It really came out of the blue," Chudy said about the state investment.
Those who fought to save the program are ecstatic. Jenny Laney's daughter, who now is a mother of two, was in the center several times when she was younger.
"It's important to me because children continue to struggle with mental health," said Laney, who oversees the peer program for Mental Health Advocates of Western New York.
"Keeping it in that serene holistic environment was really important to me," she added.
Vernon Scanlon spent nearly four years at the center. He and his mother, Allison, had already put their handprints on the buffalo. He wanted to go to the center Saturday to place his handprint on the wall, and to have his daughter put hers on the buffalo. Preserving the program was important to him, so that it would be there if ever his daughter should need it.
"It's worked and been so successful for so many families," Allison Scanlon said. "They certainly saved our family."