Weekly Feature

2017-12-07 / Local News

Veto override last hope of Children’s Psychiatric Center

West Seneca Editor

A bill to keep the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center as a standalone facility, stopping its merger with the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, was vetoed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

(See editorial on page four)

At nearly midnight on Nov. 29, word came that the governor had rejected the bill, which unanimously passed both the Senate and Assembly. Now, lawmakers are working to override the veto.

“I’m disappointed and I’m troubled for a number of different reasons,” said Sen. Patrick Gallivan following the veto.

On Nov. 30, Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns, a former assemblyman, requested a special session to override the veto.

“Legally this is not a contraction of the facility but rather a discontinuance, which requires the vote of both houses under Mental Hygiene Law 7.11 and 7.17,” Kearns said in a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Kearns said the veto did not specify a reason for the closure and the governor’s claiming that $3 million will be saved by the change is not justifiable when the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center has the lowest 30- and 90-day readmission rates, scored 99.9 percent by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations and is ranked among the top 10 percent of psychiatric facilities in the United States.

“Calling a special session for this unique piece of legislation is warranted and would be most welcome to the 19 counties this facility serves,” Kearns said.

Gallivan noted that there has not been a successful veto override since 2006.

“If you look at the record of the Legislature in overriding various governors, you would not put the chances as good,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Since 2012 when the Children’s Psychiatric Center was initially removed from the state budget, legislators and advocates have fought to keep the center open in West Seneca as a separate and distinct facility for the treatment of children with severe mental illness.

In 2015, it was announced that the center would be closed and it would merge with the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. A restraining order was issued in July of this year as an attempt to halt construction at the Buffalo site.

“The Office of Mental Health held a number of forums where the public was invited to speak,” Gallivan said. “Not one of them agreed with the commissioner of the Office of Mental Health and what their plan was to move forward.”

Since that time, more than 16,000 signatures from people across Western New York have been obtained in support of stopping the merger. These signatures were submitted to the governor alongside the bill.

“In our representative government I’m very troubled,” Gallivan said. “Everybody — the experts speaking the merits, the community standing up based on this saying they want it a certain way, the Legislature representing them, honoring their wishes — I’m troubled that the Commissioner of Mental Health and the governor unilaterally have dictated to all of us that they know better, and that’s just simply wrong.”

Gallivan said the governor’s veto message is misleading and inaccurate in the facts stated and the potential impact of the merger. Rather than eliminating a facility that is effective, Gallivan said the Legislature should fund the necessary services.

The day following the veto, Kearns announced he will be joining a lawsuit against the governor.

“I am utterly disappointed by Gov. Cuomo’s decision to veto legislation that would have kept the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center open in West Seneca,” he said. “We don’t need hindsight to see that moving this facility, to the same campus as adult psychiatric patients, downtown in a busy urban environment, will be a colossal mistake and detrimental to the health and well-being of children seeking these valuable services.”

email: jwaters@beenews.com

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