The transfer of criminally insane patients from Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island to a nearby facility will take place next month, with the union that represents center staff, the Public Employees Federation, now on board with the move after state officials addressed its safety concerns.

The move will involve about 200 people, including dozens considered dangerous, as well as staff that supervises and cares for them.

Union Raised Objections

Residents from the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, also nearby, have already been transferred from the Meyer Building facility to a renovated Dunlap Building, which is in between the Kirby and Meyer buildings on the southwest side of Wards Island.

PEF officials, including the union’s president, Wayne Spence, were vehemently against the Kirby patients’ relocation to the new building, citing a lack of safety features to guard against the patients, some of whom can be extremely violent. Concerns about the impending move were first reported by The New York Times.

Union officials were assuaged following a walk-through of the new facility on Dec. 18 with state officials, as well as officials from the State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association and the Civil Service Employees Association.

Kirby, which opened in 1985, is a 200-bed maximum-security facility run by the state Office of Mental Health. Its staff, among them Nurses, Pharmacists, Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Recreation Counselors, cares for the patients, who have been involuntarily committed following either criminal or civil infractions, and been determined to be dangerous and unsuited for incarceration in other state facilities. That population will be separated from Manhattan Psychiatric Center patients.

'No Compromise on Safety'

State officials began renovations of the Dunlap building in 2012 in anticipation of transferring Kirby patients there, according to OMH.

The move has been on tap for at least a year, after being discussed for years. OMH said the Kirby building is antiquated and lacks amenities such as central air conditioning, and modern security and camera systems. 

The union recently filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board, but it was found deficient. Mr. Spence earlier this month said the union was considering seeking an injunction in State Supreme Court to at least delay the move. “My fear is that my members will lose their lives,” he said at the time.

Asked about any deal with state officials, Mr. Spence said there were no concessions on his part. “I wasn’t going to compromise on my members safety,” he said during a Dec. 23 phone interview. “Everything that my staff said should be addressed, will be addressed,” he said.

Following earlier walk-throughs of the Dunlap Building this year, Dr. Catherine Mortiere, a forensic and clinical psychologist who works at Kirby, produced a report detailing safety and other deficiencies at the facility.

“Dr. Mortiere outlined a number of concerns in her reports,” Mr. Spence said in a subsequent text message. “Our main concern was to investigate the issues she raised in her report and to make sure the space was safe for occupancy. A number of items have been addressed immediately.”  

Preventive Steps

Those included erecting separation walls, the installation of bedroom furniture that can’t easily be moved or taken apart, the addition of dome mirrors, the capping and covering of electrical outlets, and the securing of windows, among other modifications and additions.

Others are pending, but PEF officials have been assured they will be taken care of.

“It bears repeating that the efforts by local PEF leadership to push their concerns on the safety and security of staff in the new space resulted in a walkthrough finally being scheduled, not to mention real change being made prior to it,” Mr. Spence said.  

The renovated Dunlap facility has 207 beds allocated for Kirby patients.

Manhattan Psychiatric Center patients will be on one side of the building, and Kirby patients will be on the other side, with residential, treatment and recreational spaces completely separate, state officials said.

About 450 PEF members work at both hospitals. All of the staff will transfer to the Dunlap facility, he said.

“The Office of Mental Health has fully renovated the Dunlap tower to better serve all patients treated on the Ward’s Island complex. We have collaborated with union representatives and other vital stakeholders to ensure the Dunlap tower will provide both patients and staff with the modern amenities needed to ensure quality care, safety and security,” Jessica Riley, a spokeswoman for OMH, said in a statement. 

Darlene Williams, the co-chair of PEF’s health and safety committee, said that although state health officials were well-meaning in wanting to transfer the patients out of Kirby and the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, the Dunlap Building’s architects were not fully cognizant of all of the incoming population and did not sufficiently consider safety of the staff.

Upgrades Needed

“I understand why the state wanted to modernize these buildings, because we have patients being housed in really old, dilapidated places,” Ms. Williams, an Occupational Therapist at New York State Psychiatric Institute in Washington Heights, said. But, she added, “they designed the [Dunlap] building for mental-health patients, not forensic patients...You can’t design for cute when you are dealing with borderline psychosis.”

Ms. Williams said state officials were confident outstanding issues would be corrected by the time Kirby patients are transferred. That move should happen sometime in January, according to OMH.

An additional walk-through will be scheduled before the patients are transferred, she and Mr. Spence said.

“We will meet as a team as we move forward,” he said. “Everything will be addressed before the opening.”

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