FOR KID’S SAKE – PEF President Roger Benson unveils details of the new Children’s Mental Health Partnership. He is joined by partners Senator Frank Padavan, Paige McDonald of Families Together; parents Vicki McCarthy and Mary Skorupa and Assembly members Michael Cohen and Sam Hoyt. — Photo by Sherry Halbrook

Children’s Mental Health Partnership joins budget battle
Labor, mental-health groups unite to save kids’ psychiatric centers

By Denyce Duncan Lacy
Keeping kids with mental illness in state mental hospitals designed for them is the goal of a new coalition of state labor groups and mental-health advocates called the The Children’s Mental Health Partnership.

At a news conference in late July, PEF president Roger Benson introduced several members of the broad-based coalition formed by PEF. Benson said the group opposes Gov. George Pataki’s Executive Budget proposal to close four state children’s psychiatric centers — the Queens, Sagamore, Western New York and Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Centers — and move the patients into state psychiatric centers for adults.

MEDIA MESSAGE — The mother of a teenager with mental illness records the union’s radio campaign at a studio in Albany — Photo by Sherry Halbrook

It’s about treatment
“This is not an issue of job security for PEF, as the governor has proposed relocating the staff of the children’s programs,” Benson said. “This is about stopping the state from taking a huge step backward in the treatment of children with mental illness.”

The partnership — comprised of PEF and other labor unions, and nearly a dozen mental-health advocates and advocacy groups, state legislators and others, (See “Partners” sidebar for the complete list) also unveiled a $250,000 newspaper and radio ad campaign to preserve the separate children’s mental health facilities. The ads feature a message from the parent of a child from Poughkeepsie who is recovering from mental illness. A photograph of Lynn and her daughter Angela also appears in the newspaper ads.
(See Ad.)

The partnership members stressed the importance of keeping the children’s facilities physically separate from adults’ psychiatric hospitals.

“These facilities were designed specifically for the treatment of children,” Benson said. “There are swing sets and slides, lawns, and trees. These centers are non-threatening, child-friendly and conducive to recovery.

“The administration has not provided a single, therapeutically justified reason to take these children away from these supportive environments,” the union chief added.

But mental-health advocates — including the mother of a son diagnosed with mental illness — offered several reasons for children to stay in separate facilities. Vicki McCarthy of Buffalo pleaded with lawmakers to reject the planned closures.

“The Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center saved our lives,” McCarthy told reporters.

“It’s a welcoming place for fragile families and ill children. The philosophy and care given at a children’s psychiatric center cannot be duplicated in an adult facility.”

“The families were not consulted in preparing this proposal, and it was not motivated by concern for the best interest of consumers of mental-health services or their families,” said Paige Macdonald, the public policy director for the advocacy group Families Together.

Protect the children
“The New York State AFL-CIO believes it is necessary to retain funding for these independent children’s psychiatric services at Queens, Sagamore, Western New York and Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Centers,” said state AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes.

“As members of a progressive, enlightened society, we have an obligation to protect these children.”

Three state lawmakers whose constituents would be affected by the closures also spoke out against the plan, and vowed to help defeat it.

“Both the Senate and Assembly have rejected this measure in our respective budget initiatives,” said Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Queens). “Now, we must make sure we maintain that position until a final budget is adopted.”

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo) blasted the state for “allowing decisions regarding mental health to be made by budgeteers and bean counters,” and Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Queens) asked, “How can we be sure they can keep the kids separate from adults — that there would not be some foul up?”

The half-page ads, sponsored by PEF and the partnership, appeared in the New York Times, Buffalo News, Rockland Journal, and Newsday, and the 60-second radio spots aired on stations in New York City, Buffalo and Long Island.

The Communicator Home Page

Children’s Mental Health Partners:
• NYS Public Employees Federation

• Families Together in New York State, Inc.

• Edward J. Clark, President, Board of Visitors, Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center

• William P. Barrett, President, Board of Visitors, Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Ninfa States, Member, Board of Visitors, Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Elaine Rienke, Member, Board of Visitors, Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Dorothy B. Lee, Ph.D. President, Advisory Council, Queens Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Gloria Faretra, M.D., Executive Director, retired, Queens Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Ralph Somerfield, Member, Board of Visitors, Queens Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Jean Riger, Member, Board of Visitors, Queens Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Arlene Wolf, Advisory Committee, Queens Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Hortensia Stoyan, Member, Board of Visitors, Queens Children’s Psychiatric Center

• American Association of University Women - New York State

• Honorable Frank Padavan, New York State Senate

• Service Employees International Union - New York State Council

• New York State AFL-CIO

• National Association of Social Workers - New York State

• Honorable Arthur O. Eve, New York State Assembly

• Ramon Perez, Member, Board of Visitors, Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center

• Louise P. Jones, Member, Board of Visitors, Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center
• Willard Hill, member, Board of Visitors, Queens CPC

• Friends of Sagamore

• Tom Gibbon, member, Advisory Council, Queens CPC

• Long Island Families Together

• Western Region Coalition of Family Advocates

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