Earlier this week, MHANYS had an opportunity to present testimony to the NYS Office of Mental Health as part of their Statewide Comprehensive Plan. There is a litany of issues that we usually bring up in these settings but we felt it was important this year to focus specifically on COVID.
We highlighted four key issues:
1) Impact of COVID to behavioral health: Pushing for moratoriums on any withholds to behavioral health as well as advocating that any funding New York State receives from a possible federal stimulus package should prioritize behavioral health
2) Advocating that the behavioral health workforce should be part of Phase 1 of the vaccine implementation.
3) Identifying the importance of creation of the Trauma Informed Advisory Task Force for the essential workforce including assurances that the task force will be up and running quickly
4) Urge funding support for MHANYS School Mental Health Resource and Training Center, a much valued resource during this time of great need for students, teachers and families.
Our testimony is listed below:
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.
COVID- 19 to Office of Mental Health 5.07 Plan
December 8, 2020
Glenn Liebman, CEO
Thank you for this opportunity. My name is Glenn Liebman and I am the CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State. Our organization is comprised of 26 affiliates in 52 counties. Many of our members provide community based mental health services. While not all members provide direct services, all our affiliates are engaged in advocacy, training and support. Our members have a long history of innovation in many of these areas.
In Albany, our staff is dedicated to working with our members and also to provide statewide training, education and advocacy. We are very appreciative of the support of Commissioner Sullivan and the NYS Office of Mental Health. Our organization has a long history of collaboration with OMH that we believe has helped provide mental health support to those in our community but also to the general public.
I also serve as the Chair of the New York State Behavioral Health Advisory Council and want to thank both Commissioner Sullivan and OASAS Commissioner Gonzalez-Sanchez for their leadership and dedication to the Council.
COVID Impact to Mental Health:
Restore Withholds and Moratorium on Future Cuts
The last nine months has been devastating to all New Yorkers. COVID has impacted every fabric of our lives. One area that has been particularly hard hit has been mental health. We all know the numbers from Kaiser Permante and the CDC that show rates of mental health issues are increased by over double since COVID’s inception. The depression, social isolation, anxiety, trauma and increase in substance use has all been part of the devastating byproduct of COVID. We also know that economic devastation also dramatically impacts mental health. The Economic crisis is also a mental health crisis.
We know that the State of New York is certainly impacted by the economic crisis. We are well aware of our State’s budget deficit. All that said, the State’s twenty percent withholds to behavioral health at this time of a spiraling increased need in mental health services will create a great deal of pain to those in greatest need.
We have been anticipating federal support for the last six months and hopefully that will come soon in the form of additional funding for our community and for the state’s budget deficit. With that said, we know it will not likely be enough to supplement the deficit. We need to ensure that any enhanced federal support for New York State must prioritize behavioral health. In addition, we urge support for a moratorium on cutting any funding to behavioral health services during this time of a behavioral health crisis. When we are in greatest need, we need resources and financial support, not withholds that would devastate the lives of our loved ones.
Insuring Behavioral Health Workforce is in Phase I of Vaccine
There is great hope for a vaccine that will alter the awful trajectory of COVID. MHANYS and our entire behavioral health community have been urging New York State that they should be including the behavioral health workforce as part of the health workforce thereby ensuring that our staffs are in Phase I of the vaccine. Our mental health workforce has been heroes whether working in a residential program or in a primary care setting, they have been dealing with individuals who have been COVID positive. We have had staff that have contracted COVID and passed away. Our members are frontline workers, no different than health care workers, and should be in Phase I of the vaccine.
Trauma Informed Advisory Council
With a vaccine in place and future robust implementation strategies in New York, we are hopeful that we will be able to live in a COVID free environment. We will hopefully be able to move from the physical tribulations of COVID but unfortunately the long term psychological impact will leave us with scars for many years to come.
We are very pleased that Governor Cuomo signed a bill creating a Trauma Informed Advisory Council and we thank Commissioner Sullivan for her leadership in this area recognizing that we need to address the impact of trauma to our essential workers.
Given the quick turnaround of the preliminary recommendations of the 0Advisory Council which are due by March 1st, we urge OMH to work with MHANYS to identify committee members and to begin the committee work. This will be the first of its kind in the country and this committee can be integral in implementing a long range trauma informed plan that could become a national model.
Mental Health Instruction in School
MHANYS is very appreciative of the work of OMH and SED in partnering with us to create a response to mental health instruction in school that is the first of its kind in the country.
The fabric of mental health engagement in school has changed in recent years and the impact of mandating mental health instruction in school combined with the growing awareness of mental health needs in schools is a major factor in changing school environments.
MHANYS School Mental Health and Training Resource Center was developed to work with students, teachers, school personnel and their families to provide information and resources about mental health in schools.
The pandemic has created an even greater need for student mental health support whether youth are physically in school or in school remotely. The isolation, anxiety and depression has led to an enormous need for support and resources. Our team has provided over a hundred webinars and panel discussions since the beginning of the pandemic. We have reached well over ten thousand teachers, school personnel, students and families.
We need to continue to work with OMH and SED to develop additional resources that meet the mental health needs of the school stakeholders.