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BryLin closing outpatient mental health, addiction clinic in Amherst

Buffalo News - 5/3/2022

May 3—BryLin Behavioral Health System is closing its outpatient clinic in Amherst amid financial struggles that worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, pushing the longtime provider to focus on its core inpatient mental health treatment programs within its flagship Buffalo hospital.

The closure of the Behavioral Health Center, located across two suites at 531 Farber Lakes Drive, means the end of BryLin's outpatient mental health programs for children, adolescents and adults as well as its outpatient addiction clinic for adolescents and adults.

"It was not an easy decision to make," BryLin President and CEO Eric Pleskow said in a statement Tuesday, confirming an announcement circulated among staff last week.

The outpatient site serves hundreds of people, who are being notified and encouraged to attend all scheduled appointments. The outpatient clinic will not close until all patients have been linked to other community providers.

The move also will affect 35 employees. The company said it is working to find those employees jobs within BryLin or with other local organizations.

BryLin has not yet submitted a Prior Approval Review application to the state Office of Mental Health, which is legally required before an agency can close and transfer its outpatient mental health services to other community providers, Office of Mental Health spokesperson James Plastiras said.

The planned closure comes at a time when advocates and providers are calling for more resources to respond to a mental health crisis that worsened during the pandemic. For example, the pandemic has upended the experiences at home, school and in the community for children, leading the U.S. surgeon general in December to issue an advisory "to highlight the urgent need to address the nation's youth mental health crisis."

The need for addiction services also has increased. Opioid-related deaths in Erie County last year rivaled the all-time yearly high for overdoses reached in 2016, moving the opioid drug crisis back to the forefront of public health concerns after years of pre-pandemic declines.

BryLin's closure of outpatient services is sure to affect the community, especially with the increased demand for services, said Melinda DuBois, executive director of Mental Health Advocates of Western New York. While it will be difficult and take time for patients to establish a new relationship with another provider, DuBois believes Western New York's lineup of providers will be able to step up and meet the need. Many, however, already are busy.

"More providers are needed, not less, and I just hope with more funding and more effort and more awareness on mental health and substance abuse, we'll be able to grow the number of providers," she said. "Luckily in Buffalo, we have a lot of resources."

A major issue, DuBois noted, is many providers are having difficulty finding workers, which is why she's confident the affected workers at BryLin will be able to land new jobs if they don't shift to new roles at the company's Delaware Avenue hospital.

BryLin is currently negotiating a new contract with its workers' union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, and how those talks conclude could indicate how many outpatient employees move over to the hospital, said Mark Nowak, BryLin's marketing director.

BryLin, a for-profit operator owned by the Pleskow family, said it could not "keep up, on an outpatient basis, with the funding that other local nonprofit outpatient clinics receive." By that, Nowak explained, BryLin means that it does not receive the same kind of grant and deficit funding as other community providers.

During the pandemic, Nowak said the company's hospital revenue was increasingly covering the losses created by the outpatient clinic, which wasn't sustainable. BryLin Hospitals did, however, get some federal relief during the pandemic. Records show it received $437,638 from the Provider Relief Fund and about $2.4 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, which helped it retain 253 jobs early in the pandemic.

"Covid has kind of done a number on our operations, as you can imagine," Nowak said.

BryLin, founded in 1955, opened its Behavioral Health Center in 2013, with its first outpatient mental health program for adults. A year later, it consolidated by moving its outpatient addiction treatment clinic from the Georgetown Square Plaza to Farber Lakes Drive.

As the pandemic began in March 2020, BryLin announced it was opening its first outpatient child and adolescent mental health program at the Farber Lakes Drive site.

Once the outpatient site closes, BryLin will focus all of its efforts on its inpatient mental health programs at its hospital.


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