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By Jim Seifert

Over the past several months I have had the opportunity to talk to many people about the closing of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca, and the relocation of its patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center in Buffalo. I have spoken with a good cross-section of people from health care professionals and lots of regular folks. Everyone I have talked with thinks that this is a fundamentally bad idea. All know that moving these kids into an adult facility is at best counterproductive and at worst a potential disaster. The BPC is not an appropriate environment for these kids.

Mental health care professionals will all tell you the same thing: Early, accurate diagnosis and appropriate early treatment are key factors in determining positive outcomes. Relocating at-risk kids from a safe secure environment to an adult facility is punishment, not treatment. It is just setting them up for a lifetime of institutions and jails.

Officially, the New York Office of Mental Health, the organization that has responsibility for this decision, will offer only the usual glib sound-bite response. Unofficially, it acknowledges that the move is calculated to save money. Apparently the West Seneca facility is an “expensive anomaly” in their current “business model.”

Unfortunately, there seems to be more hoping on the part of New York State than leadership and planning. The actual cost of running this facility is surprisingly low. More facilities like it should be created in other parts of the state. And these sites should be upgraded and improved as we learn more about brain and behavioral disorders, not closed.

New York State still has a hard time acknowledging the growing magnitude of the mental health crisis in the state. What are they thinking?

It is easy to declare something a Center of Excellence. It’s a great sound bite; Fortune 500 companies have been using it for decades to launch one scheme or another. It is quite another thing to actually be the center of excellent things. The Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca has an excellent track record. In closing it, we are likely to lose what has taken decades to accomplish. One should expect that when things at this facility change, they will be replaced with better, more appropriate, treatment plans and facilities. This is not what is happening.

In the end, how we treat the most vulnerable among us is a good measure of who we really are. This is especially true when there is some small thing that can be done to turn a real tragedy into a good result for all. If it turns out that the West Seneca facility is closed without providing a suitable replacement, we will have proven ourselves to be very shallow at best.

Jim Seifert of Orchard Park is a board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Buffalo and Erie County.