Advocates keep messaging to the media the importance of including
behavioral health as part of the workforce campaign.

Behavioral Health Advocates: We Need Funding Too

By Rick Karlin, Albany Times Union March 22, 2017

There’s been a big push this year to increase the pay of direct care
workers who care for the disabled.

With a rising minimum wage, the concern is that people who perform these
often-thankless and difficult tasks would be lured to easier jobs that pay
just as much.

Now, those representing the behavioral health sector are weighing in as
well. These are people who work in residences or who provide out-patient
help for people with mental illness. Years ago, many mentally ill New
Yorkers were confined to hospitals but over the years there’s been a
concerted push toward de-institutionalizing people with mental health
needs. That idea has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as well. But
that places a greater strain on smaller organizations that don’t have the
financial wherewithal that state-run hospitals enjoy.

Here are some more details from a coalition of groups in this field:

Representatives of 11 leading state behavioral health advocacy groups have
joined together to urge state legislators and the Cuomo Administration to
address the crisis in community service systems that they say are
jeopardizing the health of adults and children with disabilities,
addictions and emotional disturbances.The groups are pressing policy makers
to fund a meaningful workforce increase and a long deferred cost of living
adjustment that are critical to addressing up to 75% staff turnover rates
and 40% job vacancy rates, leaving agencies on the brink of closing.“For
years we’ve been hemorrhaging staff due to increasing operational costs and
competition from other areas of the economy that can offer our staff better
wages and benefits,” said Lauri Cole, Executive Director of the NYS Council
for Community Behavioral Healthcare“Despite their extraordinary dedication
and tireless efforts, our workforce is dramatically underpaid.” said Glenn
Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State. “We urge
the Legislature and the Governor to provide the necessary funding to retain
and recruit the quality staff that will help provide support to New Yorkers
in greatest need and to allow us to keep up with steadily rising costs.”The
advocates believe that the Senate, the Assembly and the Governor are
exploring ways to extend funding to services funded by the Office of Mental
Health and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services as they
have agreed to do for agencies associated with the Office for People with
Developmental Disabilities.“We are grateful that in each of the budget
bills there has been some expression of support for our workers and the
programs to which they dedicate their lives,” Christy Parque, CEO of The
Coalition for Behavioral Health. “However, what we are asking for is a
comprehensive commitment from the Governor and Legislature to the front
line human services workforce and our hard-pressed community agencies.”The
funding crisis has had a direct effect on the lives of people with
behavioral health conditions and their families“Trust in the staff who
worked in my housing program was essential to starting my own personal
process of healing when I was a child,” said Tiffany Monti, of the New York
Association of Psychiatric Services board. “I really needed a sense of
consistency and reliability among the staff to help me to develop a sense
of safety and stability.”“High staff turnover results in caregivers who are
not as familiar with our loved ones and who will be less apt to recognize
the earliest signs needed for immediate intervention, leading to their
hospitalization or other negative outcomes, said Wendy Burch, Executive
Director, NAMI-NYS.“Families of children with behavioral health issues need
to feel confident that there is a quality workforce in each of our service
systems,” said Paige Pierce, CEO, Families Together in NYSThe community
care crisis is being felt in every locality across the state and across the
spectrum of New Yorkers with the greatest needs.“The shrinking direct care
workforce is an issue in every county, and across all three disability
agencies, mental health, substance use disorder and developmental
disabilities,” said Kelly Hansen of the NYS Conference of Local Mental
Hygiene Directors.“Dedicated staff in substance use disorders prevention,
treatment, and recovery programs are tirelessly working to address an
epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid overdose and addiction. While
demand for these services is rising, programs are losing staff because of
low wages and inadequate benefits,” said John Coppola, Executive Director
of the New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse
Providers.Housing agencies that must provide around the clock care are
especially vulnerable.“Community based housing providers that operate OMH
residential programs need substantive state increases to properly and
fairly implement minimum wage hikes – and they need it now,” said Toni
Lasicki, CEO of the Association for Community Living.“The Supportive
Housing Network of New York calls on New York State to provide substantial
relief to chronically underfunded Office of Mental Health programs that
provide safe and supportive homes for 32,000 of our fellow citizens,” said
Laura Mascuch, Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Network of New
York.“This is not politics for us,” concluded Andrea Smyth, Executive
Director, NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health. “This is about
ensuring that New York keeps its promise to support the most vulnerable
children and adults who will not have access to care because we cannot
retain a sufficient workforce and help providers to make up for a decade of
deferred cost of living adjustments.”“We hope and expect state leaders will
answer our call this year“, said NYAPRS’ Harvey Rosenthal.

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