Issues of workforce have become the most important priority in New York’s
community mental health system of care. You can design the best system in
the world but if you don’t have the compensated, skilled and innovative
staff to run them, than we are doomed for failure. Our colleagues in the
Developmental Disabilities community have done an admirable job of raising
these issues and we will continue to raise our voices in support of staff
in the mental health community. Everything must be put on the table to
help provide support for the workforce—compensation, career ladders,
training, and other incentives should all be part of a strategy to support
the not for profit workforce. That is why in the op-ed, we call for
Governor Cuomo to create a ‘Fight for Fair Pay’ Campaign for our workforce.
That stakes are too high for failure. The op-ed is listed below.

Glenn Liebman: Workforce must be a NY priority

New York’s mental health community workforce is incredibly hardworking and
resilient. The employees have to be, given all the responsibilities of
serving thousands of individuals on a daily basis. Community mental health
workers are the safety net for all New Yorkers with mental health issues.

Despite the passionate staff and committed provider organizations, the
stark reality is that the need for mental health services keeps growing
dramatically, but cuts in services have made it more difficult.

Over the last eight years, there has been only one statewide increase in
salary for people in the not-for-profit mental health workforce (and that
was only for one sector). How can an agency retain or recruit
well-qualified staff when they have received a minimal wage increase?

Other funding challenges loom as a threat to individuals and not-for-profit
service agencies.

While the state’s minimum-wage increase is a good thing for many, it will
have unintended and negative consequences for the not-for-profit sector. In
order for not-for-profits to compete with the private sector for quality
workforce, they will need state support to help pay for rising salaries and
for bumping up existing salaries that will be impacted by the minimum-wage
increase.

Meanwhile, recent rules from the federal Department of Labor on exempt
employees and overtime will have an impact on not-for-profits. While
well-intentioned, the doubling of the threshold for guaranteed overtime
payment can impact mental health providers and other agencies. Recently,
the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said of the new rule, “To cover
higher staffing cost forced upon us under the rules, we will be forced to
hire more staff and limit the hours the staff can work.”

Ironically, these challenges are occurring while not-for-profits and the
state are being more innovative than ever in regard to mental illness.

We have learned and implemented much over the decades — the most important
being that people can live lives of recovery in the community with proper
supports. All the essentials that everyone else wants are exactly what
people with mental illness want — a reasonable place to live, good
education, employment, appropriate health and clinical referrals and social
and family ties.

Informed community support services can help provide that link but, when
services are cut or programs close, it has a dramatic effect for people
with mental illness, their loved ones and the entire community.

New York is a leader in changing the mental health landscape. In recent
years, the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have developed the
first-in-the-nation tax check-off to fight the stigma of mental illness,
and New York is on the cusp of being the first in the country to ensure
mental health education in middle and high schools.

Meanwhile, New York is dramatically changing the system design for mental
health services, and there are some sharp minds working on that design.
With them, we also will need talented, committed and fairly compensated
staff to implement the blueprints of the transition to Medicaid Managed
Care and “value-based payment.” If we don’t have smart, skilled people
running the new system, even the greatest design in the world will fail.

More than ever, we must make the mental health workforce a priority. We
urge Cuomo to replicate the successful “Fight for Fair Pay” campaign for
the mental health not-for-profit workforce. We will be reframing our mental
health system for decades to come, and we must have a workforce ready for
those changes by being well-compensated, well-trained and equipped for the
challenges that lie ahead.The stakes are too high for failure.

Glenn Liebman is CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State Inc.

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