With the imminent release of the New York State Executive Budget, advocates for behavioral health services including consumers, families and service providers came to Albany on Monday to urge Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers to include a 2.9% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to address a crisis in funding for not for profit human services agencies that is producing unmanageable vacancy and turnover rates and agency operating challenges that jeopardize their ability to support New Yorkers with mental health and substance use related needs.
Representing both mental health and substance use service providers, they emphasized the overwhelming demand for a strong and stable behavioral health service sector in addressing alarming increases in deaths due to opioid use and suicide, including a growing number of attempts among children under 10 years old, and steadily mounting rates of homelessness and incarceration.
“We come today to urge that a critically needed Cost of Living Adjustment for the behavioral health and broader human services workforce is included in this year’s state budget,” said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in NYS (MHANYS).
“We will work from the budget’s release to session’s end to for an investment that will allow us to meet some of the state’s greatest challenges,” he said.
“New Yorkers deserve a strong workforce that supports New Yorkers of all ages in their efforts to recover, build resiliency and manage their health and behavioral health challenges, along with the help of peers and family members” said Andrea Smyth, executive director of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health.
Behavioral health not for profits, developmental disability agencies, foster care agencies, at risk youth programs, child welfare agencies, services for the elderly and children’s mental health agencies would all be impacted by this increase to New York’s hard-pressed human services workforce.
At the news conference, the advocates released a newly compiled survey that pointedly demonstrated the magnitude of their workforce crisis, showing a 35% statewide turnover rates and 14% vacancy rates for the behavioral health workforce. In New York City alone, the turnover rate was over 45%.
The negative effects of the turnover and vacancy crisis include less services, delayed access to care in the community, risk of inappropriate emergency department use, less effective treatment when trust and relationships needs to be continually rebuilt, staff burnout because of overtime and high caseloads and the reduced ability to pair seasoned staff with new hires.
“None of us are surprised by the results of the survey,” said Bill Gettman, CEO of Northern Rivers Family of Services, one of the largest children’s mental health providers in New York State. “Without support and funding from New York State, our ability to attract and retain quality staff will continue to significantly erode.”
“The average pay for our dedicated workforce is so low that 60% of those working in our human services sector were utilizing or had a family member utilizing some form of public assistance benefit such as Medicaid or food stamps,” said Doug Cooper, Associate Executive Director of the Association for Community Living, who compiled the survey results.
“Every day, our behavioral health nonprofits and their workforce work at every level of society to promote and protect some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Harvey Rosenthal, CEO of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. “We can be found on the streets, in the neighborhood, at community crisis programs, pantries and shelters and domestic violence and sexual assault treatment programs, clinics and rehabilitation programs.”
“Without regular COLAs, our agencies become less and less able to do the mission oriented work that provides support, safety and recovery to New York’s most vulnerable citizens”, said Ellen Pendegar, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Ulster County and MHANYS Board Chair.
Families are also very active members of the coalition. “NAMI-NYS and the families we represent are extremely concerned by the severe lack of funding from the state that has led to community mental health providers inability to hire and retain qualified and caring staff, said Wendy Burch, Executive Director of that National Alliance on Mental Illness-NYS. “We know that continuity of care is essential to successful recovery. “
Over a dozen statewide behavioral health advocacy groups representing thousands of workers and over half a million New Yorkers in the behavioral health service sector are in unison in urging support for a statewide COLA for behavioral health and the broader human services sector.
Glenn Liebman, CEO, Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc. (MHANYS)
Christine Robinson-Cooley, Family Member, NAMI, Capital Region
William Gettman, CEO, Northern Rivers Family of Services