Officials and leaders in the mental health sector are pleased with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed investments in the mental health sector, but caution that these investments must be made in the right areas to have their desired impact.
Hochul included A historic $1.1 billion for mental health programs in her executive budget proposal released Feb. 1, with millions of dollars proposed to create new housing, expand psychiatric treatment and expand mental health services in schools.
But mental health officials testified before lawmakers at a legislative budget hearing Thursday that funding must be directed to the workforce before programs can be successfully expanded.
The state’s mental health workforce will receive a 2.5% cost-of-living adjustment wage increase, as proposed in the governor’s budget. Officials and lawmakers agreed Thursday that 2.5% will not attract or retain staff after a 5.4% increase in last year’s budget and historic levels of inflation.
They say the fix should be an 8.5% increase backed by $500 million to compete with the rising cost of groceries and services.
“2.5 was absolutely an insult,” said Assembly Mental Health Committee Chairwoman Aileen Gunther, adding, “8.5 is what we need.”
State leaders at the Office of Mental Health, the Office of Addiction and Support Services and the state Office of Developmental Disabilities argued that significant increases in clinic rates, inpatient hospital beds and more should help providers raise wages. .
Workers often say that the statutory wage increases in the budget are often not reflected in their paychecks.
Agencies are working to find out how providers are using those dollars, but enforcement is lacking outside of an employee filing a wage theft complaint with the state Department of Labor.
“We understand that there are multiple ways that providers need to use those dollars to cover operational costs and staff salaries, and so our association is trying to determine how those funds are being used,” said Kerri Neifeld, commissioner of State Office for People. with developmental disabilities.
The agencies have contracts with SUNY schools and Georgetown University to create a pipeline to recruit young people into the beleaguered workforce.
The Chair of the Senate Mental Health Committee, Sen. Samra Brouk, a Rochester Democrat, is sponsoring legislation to tie annual cost-of-living adjustments for the state’s mental health workforce to inflation, similar to the proposal supported by Hochul and the Legislature to tie the minimum wage to inflation in the upcoming budget .
Hochul’s budget includes $30 million to increase psychiatric treatment beds as facilities nationwide have long waiting lists for care. This includes reopening 150 beds in state facilities that were closed during the pandemic and continuing to reopen 850 beds in community facilities included in last year’s budget.
“Some of the stakeholder meetings we’re doing is getting input from all the communities about where they should reopen,” said Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan, commissioner of the State Office of Mental Health.
Senator Gustavo Rivera, who chairs the Health Committee, asked Office of Addiction Services and Support Commissioner Dr. Chinazo Cunningham for expanding supervised injection sites or overdose prevention centers in the state.
Cunningham said the overdose prevention centers violate state and federal laws regarding the maintenance of controlled drugs and substances, but could not elaborate on what rules make the centers problematic for receiving public funds.
“We’ve asked the same question … many times, and we’ve always been told we’ll be given more specifics,” Rivera responded, adding that department officials have never provided the requested information.
State Office of Addiction Services and Supports rejected a recommendation late last year from the Opioid Solution Fund Advisory Board to use a portion of the state’s share of more than a billion dollars in opioid settlement funds to create more overdose prevention centers. Two such sites exist in New York City, but are privately owned and operated.
Mental health and substance use professionals working in local communities agreed Thursday that $1.1 billion in the executive budget is the best proposal to support New Yorkers’ mental health in decades, but the money won’t help the crisis without the staff to provided the care.
“Great budget, the best I’ve seen in my 20 years here,” NYS Mental Health Association CEO Glenn Liebman told lawmakers just as the three-minute timer ran out during the hearing. “But if we don’t have the manpower to take care of all the work that needs to be done here, then . . .”
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