AP, MHW: Calls Mount to Address NY's Mental Health Housing Staff Crisis

NYAPRS Note: As state legislators and the Cuomo Administration move closer to negotiating a budget deal, advocates calls for $28 million to help address the intolerable staff turnover rate in OMH housing programs are mounting since the legislative days and Capital march and news conference of the last few weeks (see photos below from NYAPRS’ February 28th Legislative Day). Look for a flyer later this morning about a Wednesday Albany Call-In campaign.

NYS Lawmakers to Tackle Health Care, Budget
by David Klepper, Associated Press March 11, 2017

The Democratic-led Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate will soon release their proposed state budgets, a list of spending priorities that will serve as the basis for negotiations with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the weeks to come.

Cuomo released his own $152 billion budget recommendation in January. Lawmakers hope to pass a compromise budget by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Big items up for debate in the budget include free college tuition for middle-class students and Cuomo's plan to encourage municipal shared services.

Advocates for mentally ill New Yorkers say state funding hasn't kept up, leading to greater staff turnover and putting vital residential services at risk.

They're asking lawmakers and Cuomo to put more money in the budget to address a problem that advocates say is prompting some staffers to quit for jobs in the fast food industry.

"Staff turnover at state funded mental health housing programs has reached such unprecedented levels that New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities can no longer rely on the stability of relationships that are central to their recovery," said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.


New York State Advocates Challenge Policymakers to Boost (Housing and) Workforce Funding
Mental Health Weekly March 7, 2017

Observing a critical need to address the burgeoning crisis in New York state’s community mental health housing system, more than 700 mental health advocates, providers, nonprofit agency managers, and consumers with serious mental health conditions and their families descended on the state Capitol Feb. 28 and called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to provide funding for housing and workforce investments.

Funding increases have not kept pace with inflation in over 25 years, say advocates, who worry that the increase in staff turnover at the state funded mental health housing programs will impact the ability of consumers with mental illness to fully recover.

Rate hikes for housing providers have reached a “breaking point,” said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS). “There have not been sufficient increases for over a decade,” Rosenthal told MHW. “Providers currently have a 30 to 50 percent vacancy rate; they can’t get staff to work because the pay is so little.”

Many of the housing providers have to work a second job, Rosenthal said. “(Yet) all too often, they are asked to stay for another shift,” on their original job, he said.

Managers and CEOs of the housing programs have to come in at the last minute on the weekend to cover an overnight shift, he said. Rosenthal added, “The turnover rate is intolerable.”

Cuomo put up $10 million to increase rates for supportive housing. “We need $28 million more, representing $38 million, for each year over the next three years,” he explained.

Housing advocates and others traveled with NYAPRS to the Capitol to address their concerns, he said.

The state’s workforce in general is struggling, not just the housing providers, Rosenthal said. “We’re asking for $50.8 million to bring the workforce up to minimum wage,” he said. “We’re trying to attract and keep qualified staff.”

It would take $115 million (or $38.3 million per year for three years) to restore all the New York State Office of Mental Health housing programs to where they should be after years of losing funding to inflation, Douglas Cooper, associate executive director at the Association for Community Living (ACL), told MHW. The association is a statewide membership organization of not-for profit agencies that provide housing and rehabilitation services to consumers (with)…psychiatric disabilities.

New York State’s residential programs include about 35,000 residential beds for people with mental illness, said Cooper. The ACL conducted a survey of its membership looking at funding beds received in 1990, and compared that to inflation, he said. “It’s $115 million behind where we were in 1990,” Cooper said.

Housing provider staff has not been paid as well as they had in previous years, he noted. Before, there were three workers on a shift, and now it is down to one or two, said Cooper.

The state Senate/Assembly announced projections for the coming year and came out with projections that represent $503 million over the governor’s proposal, said Cooper. That’s encouraging, he noted.

“We hope we can make the case. We’re hopeful they do the right thing … serving our vulnerable population,” he said. Increases are occurring throughout the entire program’s budget, Cooper said.

“We haven’t kept up with not only salaries, but utility costs [and] buying food. We’re looking at increases for gasoline, furniture, the entire budget, but the biggest piece is staff,” he said….

Workforce Impact
A number of statewide organizations came together to address issues surrounding the workforce and its impact on the mental health community because there haven’t been any recent funding increases, said Glenn Liebman, executive director of the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS). It’s becoming even more difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff, he said. “Our number-one priority is work force compensation,” Liebman told MHW.

“There’s a really strong impact in New York State around the minimum wage.” The minimum wage is moving in gradations every year and may eventually reach about $15 an hour in 2021, he said. For many people, he said, that is a positive; “however, when you raise the minimum wage, you’re impacting the community mental health sector as well.” Liebman added, “We have no recourse to raise more money in a nonprofit setting.”

Nonprofit organizations rely on state subsidy investments to defray the cost and impact of the minimum wage, he said. Most lawmakers are embracing the idea of increasing wages for nonprofit organizations, he said, but where will they find the funding?

Meanwhile, discussions are underway at the top level of government to seek strategies for increased funding for the entire human services workforce, not just mental health, he said. “We will be very diligent,” said Liebman. “One in six people work for a nonprofit organization in New York State. This is clearly an issue across the whole human services sector.”

MHANYS intends to continue its momentum around mental health funding, said Liebman. The organization is hosting its own legislative day, “Mental Health Matters,” on March 7. Enactment of the state budget is due April 1.

Criminal Justice Reform
Criminal justice reform is another priority for NYAPRS, including more funding to expand crisis intervention teams (CIT) across the state. Currently, there are about 20 locations throughout the state training officers in CIT on how to deal with people with mental health conditions.

Pending legislation would put an end to solitary confinement in the state and create an alternative area for prisoners with psychiatric disabilities; pregnant women; and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/ or intersex (LBGTI) population.

The bill, A4401, would be known as the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act. It would limit the time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement, end the segregated confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement and create more humane and effective alternatives to such confinement.

NYAPRS is also seeking to raise the age of youthful offenders. New York is only one of two states — North Carolina being the other — that hasn’t raised the age of criminal liability for children, he said. Youth between the ages of 16 to 18 are still being treated like adults, said Rosenthal.

They are twice as likely to be attacked violently, five times as likely to be sexually assaulted and eight times more likely to commit suicide, he said. “All 48 of the other states do not allow children to be tried and incarcerated as adults in an adult facility,” Rosenthal said. “There is a lot of work to be done in the criminal justice system,” he said. “It’s always a huge issue for us.”

State Responds to Community Housing Issue
The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) said the state is expanding community and residential programs. “OMH continues to prioritize community housing as a critical service for improving outcomes and promoting recovery,” James Plastiras, spokesperson for the OMH, told MHW.

“Across the past three years, the OMH has implemented more than $52.5 million annually in increases to enhance and expand our existing community and residential programs.” Plastiras added, “As for minimum wage, the 2017–18 executive budget provides resources to increase salaries, and the OMH will continue to increase rates to address the cost of salaries being increased to meet new minimum wage levels.”


Capital Newsroom Features Need for OMH Housing Rate HikesAs part of the NYAPRS February 28th Legislative Day schedule, Albany’s most prominent daily radio show focusing on state policy issues featured personal testimony from NYAPRS Board member Tiffany Monti on how mental health housing played a critical role in supporting her process of recovery. MHANYS’ Glen Liebman elaborated on the importance of our asks for a housing rate hike and workforce salary increases. Hear the interview at https://www.wcny.org/march-2-2017-tiffany-monti-and-glenn-liebman/

Snapshots from NYAPRS’ February 28th Annual Albany Legislative Day

The Capital March for Housing

Rate Hikes

Marching for Criminal Justice


Capital News Conference for Housing Rate Hikes

Sign the MOU!

Photos thanks to RSS' Bill DeVita