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N.Y. mental health, addiction providers: More funding needed to stay afloat
Sector says rising costs, decade of disinvestment have agencies at ‘crisis level’
Feb. 5, 2020Updated: Feb. 5, 2020 5:24 p.m.
ALBANY — Human service organizations across New York urged state lawmakers this week to increase their funding, saying rising costs and a decade of disinvestment has left their sector at a “breaking point.”
More than 40 nonprofits that provide services to children and adults facing mental illness, addiction, developmental disabilities and other troubles are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to commit to a 3 percent annual funding increase over the next five years. They say that’s in line with the 3 percent growth rate Cuomo contends is reasonable for other sectors like Medicaid and education.
“I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but it’s true that for some agencies — because they really haven’t gotten any funding increases for a number of years — services are at a crisis level,” said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State.
Liebman is among more than 30 individuals who testified before lawmakers Monday at a state budget hearing on mental hygiene.
“There are agencies literally on the brink of serious financial distress that literally have maybe one or two months of reserves,” he said. “That’s how difficult the situation is. It’s our mission to serve people in need, but the reality is we need resources to fulfill that mission.”
Lawmakers expressed concern at Monday’s hearing that “inadequate” funding and low wages may be having an impact on the care received by the state’s most vulnerable populations.
The workforce of mostly female direct support professionals (DSP) is receiving wages between $13 to $15 an hour, said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who chairs the Mental Health Committee. That’s causing employees to leave for better-paying jobs elsewhere, and agencies are having to recruit, hire and train new staff on a regular basis.
“We are losing our workers in this system left and right,” she said. “We know that the turnover in the DSP community is tremendous. As a nurse myself, we realize that these DSPs — they create relationships with their patients and their loss is a loss to the patient.”
Liebman said a recent survey of the state’s mental health sector found turnover was between 35 and 40 percent. Turnover also erodes trust and disrupts care, he said, since it can take a long time to build rapport with people who’ve experienced trauma or feel marginalized.
According to the governor’s most recent executive budget, mental hygiene agencies provide support to more than 1 million New Yorkers, including more than 800,000 people with mental illness, 234,000 people with a substance or gambling addiction, and 140,000 people with developmental disabilities.
The proposed budget recommends an annual allocation of $170 million to support targeted compensation increases to direct care and clinical staff, as well as a $51 million annual increase to support costs associated with the state’s move to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Liebman said the sector is appreciative of the increases, but that they don’t make up for a decade of disinvestment or help with other needed costs such as facility upkeep and rising health insurance costs.
The 3 percent annual increase the groups are calling for, he said, would enable providers to use the funds the best way they see fit, and could come with a clause that prohibits their use toward administrative salaries, if that’s a concern.
Lawmakers also expressed concern at Monday’s hearing that a 2 percent wage increase for direct care and clinical staff included in last year’s budget has still not been delivered. It was to take effect Jan. 1, they said, but providers have yet to see it.
Theodore Kastner, commissioner of the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said his office has approved the increases and they are waiting on other state agency sign-offs.
“They will be paid retroactively to Jan. 1,” he assured lawmakers.