Listed below is a very powerful letter from Andrew Cruikshank, Board Chair and Andrea Deepe, the CEO of our member affiliate in Warren/Washington Counties—Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health (WWAMH).
The letter provides an up to date narrative on the impact of the underfunding of our workforce and programs. The letter references the housing crisis, the staff shortages and the vacancy rates. Though this letter was written about Warren-Washington Counties—it could have been written from every part of the State. The issues of our workforce and housing are germane in all 57 counties and 5 boroughs.
We need a 5.4% COLA in the budget and an additional investment of $500 million in the budget for behavioral health.
Look for additional actions later this week.
December 2, 2021
The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Hochul:
We are writing to you as Board President and CEO of Warren- Washington Association for Mental Health, Inc. (WWAMH) with serious concerns regarding our ability to continue to provide quality services for individuals with
the highest need of mental health care and supports.
WWAMH is a safety net nonprofit provider of mental health and co-occurring disorders services in Warren and Washington Counties. We serve an average of 1200 individuals annually, including adults, children and families, who are in different stages of their mental health recovery. We provide a multitude of services including clinical mental health care, care management, benefits management, dual recovery services and psychosocial rehabilitation. Additionally, we provide the only mental health residential services located in the two counties, that include both supportive and treatment types of services. WWAMH was awarded 5.8 million dollars from the OTDA Homeless Housing Assistance Program to complement the 3.4 million dollars received from the Empire State Supported Housing Initiative to build and operate our Cooper Street Apartments, which opened in June 2021 and is permanent supportive housing apartments for individuals and families who are homeless or unstably housed, half of which are living with psychiatric diagnoses.
State funding for OMH Housing programs alone has eroded upwards of 43% over the last 30 years. These programs are expected and required to serve the most challenging clients, manage the health and mental health for people with many co-occurring conditions and manage complicated medication regimens that were never anticipated when the housing program models were developed. We are being asked to serve numerous priority populations that were chosen specifically because of their very high needs. These program models originally were not created to serve these clients, and the state has failed, year after year, to provide adequate funding to effectively manage the growing challenges. We are continuously being asked to do more with less, e.g. operate with severe staffing shortages, increase reporting to the Justice Center, transition to Medicaid in Supported Housing including reporting that will result in more costs, and navigate the impact of COVID, to name a few. Programs are fulfilling these demands all while key staff are fleeing to other, less challenging and often higher paying industries at a sky rocketing 40-75% turnover rate statewide. Nearly 25% of staff positions statewide are vacant, which is up from a 15% vacancy rate a year ago. Our organization is seriously concerned about the sustainability of the OMH system for people with serious psychiatric disabilities.
Because of the state’s failure to provide adequate funding over decades and address the funding erosion of this vital system, we are now facing approximately $159.5 million in lost funding due to inflation, down from $177 million due to recently anticipated funding coming *only* to our community residences and treatment apartments. Furthermore, our contracts with the State are supposed to not only provide resources to help us serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers, they should, in theory, provide enough funding for us to be able to recruit and retain a qualified workforce. Unfortunately, insufficient funding has caused the highest staff turnover we have ever witnessed among direct care and supervisory staff, which not only harms the recovery process for individuals in the programs but also increases our transaction costs with every new hire, placing unwarranted financial stress on all of us.
These direct care positions require a high level of sophistication and in the past were compensated above the minimum wage rate. Due to inadequate state contract rates, many staff today make only minimum wage. They are leaving these rewarding but challenging jobs because they can make more money working in retail for fast food. We need to maintain a differential of what we pay compared to the minimum wage so that our direct care and first line program managers are not now minimum wage workers. It is the state’s responsibility to make sure our programs are funded sufficiently so our key staff members can efficiently and effectively do their jobs caring for these individuals.
We are urging you with your authority to include a 5.4% Human Services COLA and make a commitment in this year’s budget to eliminate the $159.5 million shortfall by appropriately funding these vital programs and the staff that work tirelessly in them. It is extremely important that we address these issues this budget cycle. The state must act to relieve some of the financial pressures we are experiencing before we are unable to maintain these pivotal resources the state has worked so tirelessly to build for our most vulnerable, which ultimately translates to decreased hospitalizations and lessened lengths of stay in hospital settings, thus less burden on tax payers.
We appreciate the opportunity to have you as our state’s governor and know that you will continue to raise New York up as an agent of progressive transformation, hoping that these increases can also be added to the list.