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Mental Health Update

November 10, 2021
Mental Health Update

MH Update 11/10/2021 – Press Coverage Related to Yesterday’s Mental Health Hearing on Workforce–We must continue the drumbeat to ‘Open the Door’ for 5.4

There was excellent coverage of yesterday’s Mental Health Hearing on the workforce. To reiterate, the over half a dozen mental health advocates who spoke were consistent in our call for a 5.4% COLA in this coming year’s budget and a five hundred million dollar funding increase to mental health. 

The first article is from New York NOW and the second is from the Albany Times Union 

NY’s Mental Health Workforce “On Life Support,” Asks State to Release Funds

Access to Mental Health Care in New York State

The mental health care workforce in New York has waited for years to receive more funding from the state, and organizations that represent those workers say the coming state budget should be the avenue to make good on that promise.

Those organizations are calling on the Hochul administration to propose a 5.4% cost of living adjustment in funding for that workforce, plus an additional $500 million, in next year’s budget.

At a public hearing in Albany Tuesday, representatives from those groups said the amount of funding currently set aside by the state for the mental health care workforce isn’t enough to sustain the industry, which has faced higher demand during the pandemic.

Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association, said that, with that funding, lives could be saved through a more robust response from the state.

“We’ve lost too many lives of people with mental health and addiction disorders over the last several decades,” Liebman said. “This funding will help ensure that tomorrow, and in the future, the lives of these individuals will be met with respect, support, and recovery.”

But what Liebman and other advocates asked for on Tuesday wasn’t out of the blue.

When former Gov. George Pataki and the state Legislature approved the state budget in 2006, they built in a statutory requirement that was supposed to provide bumps in state funding each year for the human services workforce based on inflation.

Since then, the state has largely chosen to defer that law. In the 15 years since it was enacted, a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, has only been honored three times.

Because that funding has failed to come through for so many years, the mental health care workforce has been plagued by low wages, which has led to turnover and a constant influx of workers with less experience in the field.

That’s affected care, according to Harvey Rosenthal, the CEO of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

“We’re at a breaking point,” Rosenthal said. “We’re on life support, and we need to be resuscitated.”

The 5.4% cost of living adjustment sought by the organizations would be a culmination of the rate hikes deferred over the last decade, while the $500 million represents the funding those groups would have received had those increases happened as scheduled.

Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, a Democrat who chairs the mental health committee, said she would support more resources for mental health care in New York, saying the demand should match the state’s commitment to those services.

“I think we failed our mental health community in the last few years, in many ways, I really do,” Gunther said. “We have so much more work to do.”

The Hochul administration, last month, did announce $21 million in federal funding to bolster the state’s mental health care workforce, and another $4 million for peer services.

When asked Tuesday by Gunther if the administration would support a 5.4% cost of living adjustment for the state’s mental health care workforce, a representative for the state Office of Mental Health didn’t offer a position, and said it would be worked out in next year’s state budget.

“We look forward to having those discussions and working with our partners in the Legislature to, as we have in the past, be part of the discussions and negotiations in next year’s state budget on this COLA,” said Moira Tashjian, the agency’s executive deputy commissioner.

New York’s fiscal position is better than anticipated leading into next year, with $4 billion more in revenue than the state anticipated when the budget was approved last April.

Hochul will present her first state budget proposal in January, kicking off three months of negotiations with the Legislature before the spending plan is due at the end of March.


New York’s mental health sector ‘in trouble’ as providers call for radical change

ALBANY — New York’s mental health providers say they are not OK. At a public hearing held Tuesday by the state Assembly mental health committee, provider after provider laid bare the anger and frustration they feel during Year Two of the coronavirus pandemic.

The need for mental health services is higher than ever, they said. But nearly a decade of rising costs, low reimbursement rates and bed reductions — coupled with the stress and burnout of working demanding jobs for low pay — has workers leaving in droves, they said. And the impact, providers warned, is life or death.

Children and adults in need of serious psychiatric help are being placed on wait lists for treatment that can stretch well past six months, providers testified Tuesday. Programs have closed and services are being reduced. Suicide rates are rising among youth and overdose rates are at record levels. Meanwhile, the workers watching all this unfold are traumatized by
their inability to do anything about it, they told lawmakers.

“We’re in trouble,” said Anne Constantino, president and CEO of Horizon Health Services in western New York. “No matter how smart we are, no matter how efficient our business model, this industry cannot be sustained into the future without something radical happening.”

The hearing, led by Assembly Mental Health Committee Chair Aileen Gunther, provided lawmakers an opportunity to hear directly from providers and the organizations that represent them about what’s happening on the ground when it comes to mental health in New York.

Lauri Cole, executive director of the NYS Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, said her organization helps people find care when they’ve run out of places to turn.

“I can tell you that family members, loved ones, advocates across the state are begging for care on behalf of their clients and family members,” she said. “I just don’t know how to tell you about the situation on the ground in enough detail to impress upon you the stress, the trauma and the aggravation that everybody is feeling, along with a great deal of anxiety right now as we try and improve our lot after having largely been ignored by the former administration.”

With a new governor at the helm and an infusion of federal funds, the time for drastic action in New York is now, providers said. They’re calling for a $500 million investment in the state’s behavioral health sector, as well as a 5.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in the coming year’s state budget that would help to retain staff, they said.

While an annual COLA for the state’s mental health workforce is statutorily mandated, it was routine during former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s tenure for those funds to be withheld from each year’s final state budget. The cost of those withheld funds is nearly $500 million, Cole said.

“We know it’s a significant ask,” she said. “But there has been over a decade of years in which we have been deprived largely of any really meaningful infusion of dollars that takes us to the point where we are at today, and where we are today is facing waiting lists across the state for care.”

Cole and other speakers expressed optimism Tuesday that Gov. Kathy Hochul may be more sympathetic to their cause, citing support she has already shown the human services sector.

In order to meet demand, the state should reverse years of disinvestment that caused services to migrate from the public to the private sector, said Randi DiAntonio, statewide vice president of the state Public Employees Federation. While there’s a place for both, she said, the state’s public mental health workforce is tasked with delivering safety net services to those most in need, including the uninsured, indigent and undocumented, she said.

More than 2,400 state-funded psychiatric beds have closed since 2010, leaving just 12 beds for every 100,000 New Yorkers, DiAntonio said. A minimum of 50 beds per 100,000 people is considered necessary to provide minimally adequate treatment for individuals with severe mental illness, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit that advocates for this population.

The state Office of Mental Health, meanwhile, has seen its number of employees decline from 17,566 in 2010 to 14,650 right before the pandemic, DiAntonio said.

“And that number has gone down,” she said. “COVID has exacerbated all of that. Those who could leave did. Those who loved their job, loved their patients, couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

As a result, mandatory overtime among OMH employees grew 33 percent last year for a total of more than 3 million overtime hours that cost the state $128 million, she said.

“This is not doing anyone any good,” she said. “It is destroying the workforce. It is creating unsafe situations where people make mistakes.”

Part of the problem is the lack of a robust pipeline into the mental health field, providers said. With low pay and high education costs, the jobs are increasingly unattractive, they said. Scholarships for mental health programs, tuition reimbursement and stipends could help on this front, they said.

Attracting new people into the field will be essential to reducing wait lists and heavy caseloads that are burning staff out, providers said.

“There is collective trauma across our workforce,” said Cole, who said employees are also having to witness “a lot of death and a lot of misery” on top of their workloads over the past year and a half.

“They’re begging for help,” she said. “And we just need to take a strong position and say this can never happen again. We can never be neglected or denied for even one year, let along the majority of years … we are really, really in a crisis.”