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Kearns asks U.S. Attorney to investigate Buffalo Psychiatric Center

WBFO News File Photo

Following a recent violent incident at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, as well as the acquisition of documents reporting dozens of deaths there over a three-year span, State Assemblyman Michael Kearns is asking the local acting U.S. Attorney to look more closely.

Assemblyman Kearns said documents acquired by the Freedom of Information Law reveal that over a three-year period, from mid-2013 through mid-2016, there were 76 patient deaths inside the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.  

Kearns also recently asked Governor Andrew Cuomo to look more closely at the center, following a violent incident that resulted in three employee injuries.

Cuomo's administration is moving forward with a plan to close the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center in West Seneca and transfer the young patients to a new facility on the Buffalo Psychiatric Center campus. Kearns, and several other local state representatives, oppose that move and have worked legislatively to stall or halt the merger. Kearns, whose district includes the children's campus, believes his latest findings further back the opinion that the merger is not a wise one.

"I support the Buffalo Psychiatric Center one hundred percent. We just know that it's not a facility for a place for children," Kearns said. "When you're talking about merging the two facilities, we're talking about violent attacks. We're talking about a record number of deaths over a two-and-a-half year period."

Kearns claims that the documents he acquired from the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs showed 76 deaths at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center between June 2013 and March 2016.

Kearns has written acting U.S. Attorney James Kennedy to take a closer look at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. The assemblyman told WBFO federal investigators would provide a more objective probe.

The State Office of Mental Health disputes those numbers. In an email to WBFO, an OMH official reported only 13 deaths were reported on the campus over the time period in question. Three, according to the OMH email, involved residents.

The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs returned WBFO's call with a written statement, also disputing the numbers: "It would be inaccurate to assume that all 76 deaths listed in this FOIL response have  physically occurred at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. The information provided includes a listing of all deaths reported to the Justice Center of individuals receiving residential services at a particular facility or who had received such services within 30 days of their death. It may also include deaths in non-residential and outpatient programs at that facility for which the reporter had reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect may have been involved. Additionally, it should be noted that vast majority of deaths reported to the Justice Center are due to things such as old age, or other causes unrelated to abuse and neglect."

Governor Cuomo did not speak with broadcast reporters during his visit to Buffalo on Tuesday, but insisted to the Buffalo News that the new children's facility will be bigger and safer, and will keep the young population separated from the adults.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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