An excellent summary by MHANYS Public Policy Director John Richter,
discussing the law recently signed by Governor Cuomo, allowing New York
summer camps to have the ability to hire mental health professionals
beginning next summer. This legislation has been a priority for MHANYS for
several years and we are pleased to see it signed into law.
New York Summer Camps Authorized to Hire Mental Health Professionals
Governor Cuomo has signed a new law that will allow childrens’ overnight
camps, summer day camps, traveling summer day camps and camps for children
with developmental disabilities to employ mental health professionals.
Specifically, the law authorizes summer camps to hire licensed social
workers, physical therapists, psychologists, athletic trainers, mental
health care professionals, occupational therapists and other licensed
professionals to provide services.
MHANYS advocated for the bill for several years and is pleased to see it
finally pass. Thanks to the persistence of the bill’s legislative
sponsors, Senator Brouk and Assemblyman Abinanti, the bill is now law. The
legislation was signed by the Governor on July 16 as Chapter 289 of the
Laws of 2021 and becomes effective for the 2022 camp season.
Historically, camps have been able to hire certain health professionals
such as nurses but there has been a significant gap in services because
camps weren’t permitted to hire mental health professionals. The
implications of this gap are serious. In New York, over 300,000 youth live
with a serious mental health condition that markedly impairs daily
functioning. About half of all chronic mental health conditions begin by
age 14, half of all lifetime cases of anxiety disorders begin at age 8, and
22% of youth aged 13-18 experience a serious mental disorder in a given
year. This data suggests a significant likelihood that any given child
camper will either go to camp with a pre-existing mental health disorder,
attend camp with an undetected mental health condition or manifest the
first onset of symptoms of mental distress while at camp. Mental health
crises can be precipitated by stressful events such as being away from home
at camp. Many medical professionals such as nurses and doctors, which
camps are currently permitted to have on staff, are not well-informed about
mental health related issues and/or how to respond to mental health crises
such as suicide, self-harm and panic attacks. Camps will now have the
ability to respond to such emergencies when necessary with suitably trained
mental health professionals.
Prior to the new law, legal barriers existed that prevented camps from
being able to effectively respond to the inevitable mental health needs of
campers. In its Memorandum of Support for the legislation MHANYS argued
that it’s discriminatory that camps cannot provide interim mental health
care or monitoring while children with mental health conditions or
developmental disabilities are away from their usual treatment provider.
The new law will ensure that the licensed professionals and practitioners
needed to provide these necessary services are available.
At its root this law is about parity. Allowing camps to hire mental
health professionals is consistent with the spirit of parity because it
provides campers with access to mental health services on par with physical
health care while at camp. MHANYS argued that depriving campers of access
to mental health services, when needed and while at camp, violates the
spirit of parity and promotes the unfounded notion that mental health care
is not as important or necessary as physical health care.