Skip to main content

Mental Health Update

February 17, 2023
Mental Health Update

Media Reaction to Yesterday’ Mental Hygiene Hearing: Theme of 8.5% COLA is Front and Center Across the Board

Mental health officials want budgeted $1B directed to workforce

PUBLISHED 9:34 PM ET FEB. 16, 2023
Officials and leaders in the mental health sector are pleased with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed investments in the mental health sector, but warn those investments must be made in the proper areas to have their desired impact.

Hochul included a historic $1.1 billion for mental health programs in her executive budget proposal released Feb. 1, with millions of dollars proposed to develop new housing, expanding psychiatric treatment and expanding mental health services in schools.

But mental hygiene officials testified to lawmakers at a legislative budget hearing Thursday that funding must be directed at the workforce before programs can be expanded successfully.

The state’s mental health workforce will get a 2.5% cost-of-living adjustment pay increase as proposed in the governor’s budget. Officials and lawmakers agreed Thursday 2.5% will not attract or retain staff after a 5.4% increase in last year’s budget and historic levels of inflation.

They say the adjustment should be an 8.5% increase backed by $500 million to compete with the rising cost of groceries and utilities.

“The 2.5 was absolutely an insult,” Assembly Mental Health Committee chair Aileen Gunther said, adding, “8.5 is what we need.”

State leaders in the Office of Mental Health, Office of Addiction Services and Supports and the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities argued significant increases in clinic rates, inpatient hospital beds and others should help providers increase salaries.

Workers often say the pay hikes legislated in the budget are often not reflected in their paychecks.

Agencies are working to find out how providers are using those dollars, but lack enforcement outside a worker filing a complaint of wage theft with the state Department of Labor.

“We understand that there are multiple ways that providers need to use those dollars to cover operational costs and staff wages, and so our association is trying to ascertain how those funds are being used,” said Kerri Neifeld, commissioner of the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

The agencies have contracts with SUNY schools and Georgetown University to try and create a pipeline to recruit young people to the beleaguered workforce.

Senate Mental Health Committee chair Sen. Samra Brouk, a Rochester Democrat, sponsors legislation to tie the annual cost of living adjustments for the state’s mental health workforce to inflation, similar to the proposal supported by Hochul and the Legislature to tie the minimum wage to inflation in the upcoming budget.

Hochul’s budget includes $30 million to increase inpatient beds for psychiatric treatment as facilities statewide have long wait lists for care. That includes reopening 150 beds in state facilities that closed during the pandemic, and continuing to reopen 850 beds in community facilities included in last year’s budget.

“Some of the stakeholder meetings that we’re having is to get information from all the communities as to where they should reopen,” said Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan, state Office of Mental Health commissioner.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who chairs the Health Committee, asked Office of Addiction Services and Supports Commissioner Dr. Chinazo Cunningham about expanding supervised injection sites, or overdose prevention centers, in the state.

Cunningham said overdose prevention centers violate state and federal laws regulations related to maintaining drugs and controlled substances, but could not provide details on which rules make the centers problematic to receive public funding.

“We’ve been asking the same question… many times, and we’re always told that we will be given more specifics,” Rivera replied, adding department officials have never provided the requested information.

The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports rejected late last year a recommendation from the Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board to use a portion of the state’s share of more than a billion dollars in opioid settlement funds to create more overdose prevention centers. Two such sites exist in New York City, but are privately owned and operated.

Mental health and substance use professionals working in local communities agreed Thursday the $1.1 billion in the executive budget is the best proposal to support New Yorkers’ mental hygiene in decades, but the money won’t help the crisis without staff to provide the care.

“Great budget, best I’ve seen in my 20 years here,” Mental Health Association of NYS CEO Glenn Liebman told lawmakers just as the three-minute timer ran out during the hearing. “But if we don’t have the workforce to take care of all the work that’s got to be done here, then…”–1b–but-want-more-directed-to-workforce



Sounding alarm on workforce crisis

Lawmakers seek to address “underfunded” mental hygiene system

By Raga Justin 

Will Waldron / Times Union








Representatives from the offices of Mental Health, for People with Developmental Disabilities, and Addiction Services and Supports speak at a hearing Thursday at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

(Albany Times Union)


ALBANY — State lawmakers pressed for answers at a hearing at the Capitol Thursday on whether enough money is allocated in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget for workers who regularly deal with New York’s most vulnerable residents to compensate for what some call a historically underfunded system.

Lawmakers again cast a workforce shortage as a major crisis facing three of the state’s largest human services agencies: the Office of Mental Health, the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, and the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. In recognition of the rising inflation that has driven calls for wage increases across the country, Hochul’s budget includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment granted to both state workers in those agencies as well as people who work in nonprofits providing many of the same services.

Commissioners from the mental hygiene agencies offered some cautious optimism during the hearing about the staffing situation among their workers. Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan, the director of the Office of Mental Health.

Commissioners from the mental hygiene agencies offered some cautious optimism during the hearing about the staffing situation among their workers. Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan, the director of the Office of Mental Health, pointed to boosted recruitment efforts, including loan forgiveness programs and partnerships with local universities that she said have seen success in attracting new workers.

And Kerri Neifeld, who heads the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, noted recent retention rates have appeared to stabilize, a promising sign for a workforce that has had well-documented issues with staff turnover and burnout that have only increased since the pandemic.

Part of that, Neifeld said, is due to a 5.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment for state workers included in last year’s budget, an investment that translated into nearly $380 million in funds across the spectrum.

Yet that has not been enough to satisfy many workers, especially those who work in nonprofits and did not benefit from last year’s 5.4 percent increase for state employees, according to some Democratic legislators and advocates who spoke at the hearing.

The proposed 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment this year is “absolutely an insult,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, an Orange County Democrat, adding that many of the workers she has spoken with often have to work multiple jobs to compensate for low wages. She has pushed for an 8.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment across the board, as have dozens of nonprofit service providers who work with New Yorkers with disabilities, mental health disorders or struggles with substance abuse.

Gunther also cast what she deemed a decrease in workforce investment as a blow for the communities that primarily make up that workforce — namely, lower-income women of color.

Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, a Manhattan Democrat, noted that high turnover rates have led to what she called a “massive jobs hemorrhage” as workers, especially those in the nonprofit sector, seek jobs in other industries that pay more. Lawmakers cited anecdotal reports of workers fleeing for better paying jobs in retail and fast-food companies.

Advocates partially blame years of underfunding, said Glen Liebman, the CEO of the New York Mental Health Association. But with an influx of federal funds still left from pandemic-era relief, Liebman said the state has an opportunity to “course-correct” its worker funding now — especially as workers face an increasingly desperate affordability crisis.

“We always say, this is mission-driven work, but mission-driven does not put food on the table,” Liebman said.

Advocates also took the opportunity to suggest what may be viewed as long-shot recruitment ideas; Liebman told legislators they should consider pensions for staff who work in nonprofits geared toward care for mental health or addiction services.

He also pointed to legislation sponsored by state Sen. Samra Brouk, a Monroe County Democrat who has worked in the nonprofit sector herself. Brouk’s bill would tie cost-of-living adjustments to inflation automatically.

“We shouldn’t be coming back year after year. … We shouldn’t have to fight for this,” Liebman said. “You have to be giving people money to be able to live.”



Lawmakers emphasize cost-of-living adjustment in mental health budget hearing

Thursday, February 16th 2023, 5:21 PM EST
By Elise Kline


Lawmakers emphasize cost-of-living adjustment in mental health budget hearing
Thursday, February 16th 2023, 5:21 PM EST
By Elise Kline
Play Video
ALBANY, NY (WENY)–In the ninth of thirteen budget hearings, lawmakers highlighted a variety of issues in mental health including wraparound services and the opioid settlement fund but the focal point was the cost-of-living adjustment.

For the second year in a row, the governor included the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in the state budget.

But some lawmakers said her proposal of a 2.5% increase for human service providers is not enough.

“If we are considering minimum wage increase to inflation, why are we not using the consumer price index to develop the COLA every year?” said Assembly Member Aileen Gunther (D-Assembly District 100), during questioning.

Ann Sullivan, New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner responded, the process of increasing the COLA is very complex.

“I believe that the technology that has to do with how COLAs are determined is intricate and I think that this year again I just have to emphasize that this is a back-to-back COLA for the first time in a long time,” Sullivan said.

Lawmakers also emphasized throughout the hearing, making wraparound services–or services and supports for children, youth, and families in their homes, schools, and community–more accessible.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s total system spending for mental hygiene in her budget this year proposes $10.5 billion–an annual spending growth of 7.2%.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-35th Senate District) said Gov. Hochul’s proposals are good but feels there is more work to be done.

“It’s like so many things in the budget, there’s always more that can be done but again the fact that it is a focal point for everyone for all the best reasons, and not only outside but in our schools, in our classrooms–trying to make sure that those services are available I think will continue to be a priority for us,” Leader Stewart-Cousins said.
Copyright WENY News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.