Buffalo Psychiatric Center will grow while other psychiatric centers in the state will close or change under a consolidation plan unveiled Wednesday by the state Office of Mental Health.
Inpatient services now offered at the Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca and at the state psychiatric centers in Rochester and Elmira will be merged into the historic Buffalo facility at Forest and Elmwood avenues, starting in July 2014.
The Buffalo center’s inpatient psychiatric beds, now at 185, will grow to 208, said Benjamin Rosen, a spokesman for the state Office of Mental Health.
Rochester, meanwhile, will become home to a forensics center that would house psychiatric patients coming out of state prisons or patients held under court order. It will grow to 155 beds in the state’s 2015-16 fiscal year and could house some patients that would otherwise be in Buffalo.
Families who currently rely on Buffalo Psychiatric Center for inpatient services and for the outpatient treatment it offers at sites in and around the city were concerned that the facility would be closed and merged with Rochester Psychiatric Center. They were relieved as the first details of the makeover became public Wednesday afternoon.
“I am glad it is staying,’’ said Marcy Rose, president of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which advocates for families and helps them navigate the fragmented mental health system. “It is positive for us. It will definitely help our families who will not have to travel all the way to Rochester.’’
Moving 41 beds from the Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca to the buildings under the looming H.H. Richardson-designed towers at Buffalo Psychiatric Center was another matter, however.
“I guess I have mixed feelings. I would want to know more,’’ said Jenny Laney, director of the Child and Family Support Program run by the Mental Health Association of Erie County. The staff in West Seneca are experts at what they do, she said, and children can wait weeks or months for a bed.
“My question would be, what kind of community support will be out there to serve families?’’ she said.
The Office of Mental Health will allow patients to choose a psychiatric center anywhere in the state without regard to where they live. The state officials also said they expect their consolidation will work without laying off employees.
Even though New York in the 20th century followed the national trend to close large mental institutions, it still runs more psychiatric centers – 24 – than any other state.
The consolidation unveiled Wednesday rearranges them into 15 regional “centers of excellence”; three forensics centers in Rochester, Marcy and Manhattan; and two research centers in Manhattan and in Hudson Valley’s Orangeburg.
At the same time, the state intends to greatly expand community treatment options with hubs for those services in a number of population centers. In the western region – which extends from Lake Erie to Tompkins County, with some 3 million people – Rochester, Buffalo and Elmira would be considered hubs, but services are expected to continue in the counties that have them now.
The Office of Mental Health indicated that the energy created by the University at Buffalo Medical School and by the many other colleges here helped sway the selection of Buffalo as the site of the “Great Lakes Child and Adult Regional Center of Excellence.”
States the plan: “It will be a training site for psychiatric residents, psychology doctoral interns, pharmacy doctoral interns, and will provide advanced training and research opportunities for a wide variety of mental health and related professions.’’
The consolidation would not affect the makeover and restoration of the Richardson towers into a boutique hotel and other uses. Those historic buildings have not been used by the psychiatric center for decades.
Members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter here, other patient advocates and Psychiatric Center employees had pressed state leaders to keep the Buffalo center open. They presented acting Mental Health Commissioner Kristin M. Woodlock a petition signed by hundreds of people, and they argued in Buffalo’s favor when she visited the center in April during the statewide “listening tour’’ that preceded release of the consolidation plan.
Rosen said the Office of Mental Health can consolidate psychiatric centers without State Legislature approval but must give lawmakers a year’s notice. That notice was delivered Wednesday.
The consolidation will take three years, and each center of excellence will be guided by a committee of up to 15 people led by an Office of Mental Health senior executive and the county commissioner of mental health. Many people within the mental health system agree that it has been a bumpy road since states started closing large institutions, partly so patients could live in the community and have a say in their treatment, but also so states could avoid the crushing costs of running psychiatric centers.
But as psychiatric centers closed in the last century, the number of mentally ill people in jails and prisons rose. D.J. Jaffe, who runs a think tank on the mental health system in New York City, agrees that jails today double as psychiatric centers and that states need to offer more psychiatric beds, not fewer.
“Closing psychiatric facilities is a really bad idea,” Jaffe said. “New York State is short 4,300 beds for people with serious mental illness, and that assumes we have perfect community services, and we don’t. The largest psychiatric facility in New York is Riker’s Island, and when they close these centers, they will probably have to make that one bigger.”
But the Office of Mental Health says New York can’t continue to run so many large centers.
“New York State spends one-fifth of its overall mental health budget” – $1.3 billion – “to maintain and operate the system’s outsized psychiatric hospital system, which has three times the number of state-run hospitals compared to the next largest state-operated inpatient system,” the Office of Mental Health said in the document released Wednesday.