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Mental Health Update

December 17, 2021
Mental Health Update

MH Update 12/17/2021 – Media from Yesterday’s Behavioral Health Press Event:

Listed below are articles from the Albany Times Union, Daily Gazette and Albany TV Station, WRGB related to yesterday’s press event. The prevailing theme in all three pieces were the real ‘hurt and devastation’ our community behavioral health system has had for many years. The suicide completions, the overdose deaths, incarceration and homelessness— are all consequences of not having funding in place. The stories of the pain of peers, their loved ones and the workforce crisis in provider agencies were all addressed at the press conference.

Money alone does not fix this crisis but it can help to rebuild a system torn apart by COVID. We need to have Governor Hochul include a 5.4% COLA in the 2022-23 Executive Budget and we need to add $500 million to behavioral health to help make up for the many years of not receiving the statutory COLA.

Thank you to our colleague Harvey Rosenthal for compiling these articles.

———–Advocates to Gov. Kathy Hochul: Invest $500 million for mental health resources in upcoming state budget By Shaniece  Holmes-Brown<>  Albany Times Union  Dec. 16, 2021

ALBANY – Christina Hauptman is a single mother who works up to 60 hours per week to take care of her 14-year-old son who is struggling with mental health issues and has been waiting for access to support services for almost two years.

“I believe I’m really going to lose him before he gets his services,” Hauptman said. “I don’t know if he is going to live much longer, and if he doesn’t, it’s a direct result of not having the help he needs.”

She explained that after three prior suicide attempts, she is afraid that if her son remains unable to get the services he needs, he will eventually end his own life. And even though she has some connections through her job as a family support worker, she says there have been minimal treatment options to help him. He repeatedly has been placed on waitlists for admission to psychiatric facilities, amid other obstacles to care.

Hauptman is from Suffolk County, Long Island and traveled over four hours to the Legislative Office Building on Thursday morning to attend a forum held by state and regional mental health substance use disorder advocacy organizations seeking an increase in state funding for their programs.

The organizations are demanding that Gov. Kathy Hochul include a $500 million investment, and a 5.4 percent cost of living adjustment, to the upcoming 2022-2023 Executive Budget proposal.

Hauptman explained how it will help her son if these investments are made. “He would have the services he needs and deserves, and right now I worry each day that I’m not going to find him alive.”

Glenn Liebman, executive director of the Mental Health Association of New York State, moderated the forum of speakers. He explained why the dollars are needed statewide in the midst of the pandemic and the opioid crisis.

“Think of how different our system would be if we had that $500 million,” Liebman said.

“Think of how many people would not have lost their lives to suicide completion and drug overdose. Think of how many people would not have deaths of despair and all of the people who would not be in homeless shelters and in the prison system. The world would be so different if we had that money. Well, now is the time to get it.”

When asked about correspondence from Gov. Hochul on the subject, Liebman said, “We’re optimistic about Gov. Hochul. She has been supportive of behavioral health issues.”

Other advocates at the forum expressed how state funding would benefit from investing in mental health and substance abuse programs.

“Funding these services actually saves money because funding them keeps people out of prisons, jails, hospitals, and homeless shelters, all of which cost so much more,” said Sebrina Barrett, executive director of the Association for Community Living. “So if you fund mental health, not only is it the right thing to do for the people that everyone in this room serves, but it’s going to save state dollars as well.”

Bill Gettman, board chair and CEO of Northern Rivers Family Services, talked about the need for nonprofits to be funded in order to sustain themselves and hire more staff.

“We need an investment of the 5.4 percent and the $500 million so we can hire more staff, train more clinicians, and increase salaries,” Gettman said. “The governor has changed the culture in Albany, however, she needs to change her budget. Because the budget is priorities, and values, and how we care about each other.”

———-– Mental Health, Addiction Groups Seek Additional State Funding by Chad Arnold Daily Gazette December 16, 2021

ALBANY – Local organizations combating issues surrounding mental health and addiction are calling for additional state funding in light of what they described as a crisis brought on by an increased demand for their services and dwindling staff due to worker fatigue caused by the pandemic.

Leaders from several Schenectady-based organizations, during a press event in Albany on Thursday, said the current circumstances are untenable and fear the situation will worsen as winter sets in and the virus continues to surge.

“Right now it’s a crisis, but it could become a catastrophe,” said Steve Klein, executive director of Mohawk Opportunities, which provides stable housing and treatment services to those dealing with mental health issues and addiction throughout Schenectady County. The organization has 450 clients, including 200 living in group homes and certified housing units.

Klein joined around a dozen organizations calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to make what they called “long overdue” investments in community organizations dealing with issues of mental health in next year’s state budget, including a 5.4% cost of living adjustment for workers and an additional $500 million to make up for past increases that failed to materialize in the budget for more than a decade.

The money, the group said, is needed to fill vacant positions and bolster wages in order to address the growing backlog of individuals seeking treatment and retain staff that have for years been underpaid.

The Hochul administration did not return a request for comment, though advocates on Thursday said they are hopeful lawmakers will take up the issue when the Legislature reconvenes next month.

“We have a governor that has been talking about these issues, but the rubber meets the road when the budget comes out,” said Glenn Liebman, CEO of Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc., a nonprofit working to end the stigma associated with mental illness.

Klein, meanwhile, said one in three positions at Mohawk Opportunities is vacant and retaining staff has been an ongoing issue since the pandemic set in last March, with many leaving the field for less strenuous work that often pays higher wages.

Half of the organization’s clinical staff – which make just over $15 an hour – employed in January have left and finding candidates willing to fill the positions has been difficult, said Klein, who said workers are “grossly underpaid.”

With additional state funding, he hopes to increase wages to over $20 an hour.

Of the organization’s 60 employees – who have been working extensive overtime to cover the 24 vacant positions – 43% have been with the organization for less than a year, according to Klein.

He attributed the turnover to stagnant wages and increased workload, which can be attributed to a lack of state funding and the pandemic, respectively, and said the quick turnover creates an unstable environment at a time when stability is paramount.

“They’re underpaid, they’re overworked – COVID has had a very significant impact,” Klein said.

Local agencies from across the state echoed similar sentiments, with some saying as many as 25% of positions are currently unfilled.

Meanwhile, demand for addiction and mental health services has grown significantly since the pandemic began last year.

Overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 for the first time in the 12-month period ending in April 2021, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol use has also been on the rise, and mental health services already struggling to meet demand prior to the pandemic have become even more overwhelmed.

Hospital visits for suspected suicide attempts for girls between the ages of 12 and 17 have increased 51% between February and March this year compared to the same time period in 2019, according to the CDC.

Kim Kaiser, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Families Together in New York State, a statewide organization that works to provide child mental health services, said the lack of workers in the field was an issue long before the pandemic, but has gotten dramatically worse over the last 20 months.

The pandemic, which has killed more than 800,000 nationwide, including over60,000 in New York, disproportionately impacted communities of color and has exacerbated the need for mental health services for children, who have been dealing with the loss of parents and other family members and been forced into isolation, Kaiser said.

“The landscape was damaged before COVID,” she said. “It was as though we had wounded soldiers on the ground struggling for life without a medic and then we unleashed a weapon of mass destruction right on top of it.”

At Northern Rivers Family Services, a comprehensive-care organization with offices in Schenectady servicing more than 18,000 individuals, including children, across 41 counties in New York, the demand for service has increased exponentially since the pandemic, according to William Gettman, the organization’s CEO.

In 2019, the organization had a backlog of about 150 families and an employee vacancy rate of between 15% and 20%. The backlog has grown to 923 as of Wednesday and a vacancy rate has grown to 35%, he said.

“These are people that have gone through COVID, have increased stress, increased anxiety, and now we have potentially a second wave coming with a new variant,” Gettman said.

He added that salary levels for clinicians is “woefully underfunded,” and said additional funding is needed to increase salaries and higher additional staff, which will lighten the case load for those already in the field.

“When you have a backlog of 900-plus cases, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver services. People overreach,” he said. “We don’t want to do that. We want appropriate and professional services for our families.”

——–-Advocates and Local Officials Push For Mental Health & Addiction Resources By J.T. Fetch WRGB Albany, NY

ALBANY COUNTY , NY (WRGB) – Mental health is an ongoing issue that’s only been made worse by the pandemic, and Thursday there were two big announcements on efforts to call attention to the problem and combat it.

A dozen statewide groups are calling for New York State to do better when it comes to mental health and substance use and addiction services. This, as Albany County announces a program expansion for response to mental health emergencies.

At the Capitol, 12 groups known together as Behavioral Health Advocates (BHA) held a forum and virtual rally, calling for Governor Hochul to include a 5.4% cost of living adjustment to the next state budget for community based mental health and addiction care. The groups also want $500 Million more invested.

They say the state has failed for decades on this, leading to staff shortages and reduced access to care.

At a more local level, Albany County officials announced Thursday a $350,000 infusion of state funds to help with the Albany County Crisis Officials Responding and Diverting, or ACCORD program.

The common theme from both announcements is that with the mental health side effects of the pandemic, this is needed now more than ever.

“I’d love to throw all kinds of numbers at you, but a lot of our calls are mental health-related. Whether it’s addiction, domestic violence, veterans suffering from PTSD,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

Sebrina Barrett is the Executive Director of the Association for Community Living. Speaking at the BHA event, Barrett said state funding is needed to help with staffing:

“Because of the lack of state funding, many of these positions are paid at minimum wage. Our members cannot compete with fast food and retail for employees. This is unsustainable,” said Barrett.

The ACCORD program in Albany County is focused on improving the outcome of nonviolent emergency calls. Officials say the new state funding will offset staffing, equipment and training costs. it will also allow police to focus on handling crime, instead of nonviolent emergency calls related to mental health.

County officials say since the program launched last June in the Hilltowns,more than 100 people have been helped.