Lawmakers, parents promise fight for psych center far from over

DEPEW, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca will close, and the children that fill the 46 beds at the facility will be moved to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center on Forest Avenue.

But the fight for that plan to be scrapped is far from over, according to some lawmakers and parents of patients, who this week were forced to pivot their approach after a major decision in Albany.

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo made way around the state Monday and Tuesday, signaling the end to a hard fought budget battle in Albany, members of a small coalition for children felt as though they were gearing up for their own battle.

The state set aside $11 million dollars to renovate the Buffalo Psych Center to accept nearly four dozen children in the coming year. The move includes setting aside entire floors for new patients, and building a separate entrance and additional play areas.

But so far, the plan has more questions than answers, despite the fact it’s moving forward, said State Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, D-Buffalo.

“They think it’s a $20 million project,” Kearns said. “They don’t even think there’s going to be enough money to do what they need to do to make this a good project.”

And cost is just one of them.

“There are so many unanswered questions that the governor has not answered for the people of West Seneca,” Kearns said. “There have been so many concerns that have not been answered.”

The biggest, according to Kearns and current and former parents of patients at the children’s center in West Seneca, is safety.

Vernon Scanlon was 10 the first time he was taken to the children’s psych center in West Seneca, after his outbursts grew to become increasingly violent.

“It was very difficult for us to think about Vernon being put into a facility,” said Allison Scanlon, Vernon’s mother. “We didn’t know if he would end up ever coming home again.”

But they had little choice. It would be the first of two, two-year stints in the facility that within a year will be shuttered by the state.

“My husband and I were absolutely physically exhausted because everyday we were worried about our child,” she said. “Is he going to hurt someone, is he going to hurt himself, what does this day hold?”

The Scanlons quickly grew to appreciate the children’s psych center, for not only what it did for Vernon, but what it did for their family.

“It was just a peaceful place, and that’s what my family needed, we just needed peace,” she said. “Everybody needed to be calm and allow Vernon the opportunity to relax and get well.”

Kearns and Scanlon said achieving that in Buffalo will be difficult.

“They’re trying to replicate (the West Seneca) design in a facility that was designed for adults,” he said.

Kearns said the Buffalo facility is well suited — for adults. But it’s not problem free.

A public records request revealed more than 280 calls for Buffalo Police to respond to the adult center on Forest Avenue between April of 2007 and this month.

The calls range from the mundane to the serious, and include 20 calls for assaults and 15 calls for sex offenses and rape during the time period.

Kearns, who’s brother has a mental illness, says he supports the Buffalo facility. But he supports it staying as it is.

“I support the Buffalo psych center, I support the workers, I support the patients. I have mental health issues in my family,” he said. “However, it is a dangerous facility. We know that based on these phone calls.”

Scanlon said she also appreciates the work done in Buffalo — for adults.

“I don’t think they want harm to come to children, but it’s inevitable,” she said. “At some point, something is going to happen.”

“We feel that mental illness is going backwards for our children,” Scanlon added. “That they’re putting them back in a facility that, they knew 60 years ago, they needed to come out of. ))

Scanlon and others said they hope Kearns and others follow through with promises for a federal lawsuit, which may seek to prove the move would be a regressive form of treatment for children.

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