Breaking: 'Intolerable Staff Turnover Rates at NYS Mental Health Housing Program Have Reached Crisis Proportions'

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February 28, 2017

Advocates: Intolerable Staff Turnover Rates at NYS Mental Health

Housing Programs Have Reached Crisis Proportions

Representatives of New Yorkers with serious mental health conditions and their families joined today with nonprofit agency mangers, direct care staff and statewide mental health advocates to call on Governor Cuomo and state legislators to take action this session to address the crisis in the state’s community mental health housing system.

“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.

“Stable relationships that are based on trust, hope and compassion are essential to promoting wellness, recovery and independence, especially for those who are struggling to find their way through the very challenging process of early recovery,” he said.

“Trust in the staff who worked in my housing program was essential to starting my own personal process of healing,” said Tiffany Monti, a Long Island native who now serves on the NYAPRS Board of Directors and works with service animals. “I really needed the consistency, kindness and reliability of some very special staff members who believed in me and supported me to develop a sense of safety, stability and purpose.”

Over 800 self and system advocates are coming to Albany today from across New York to tell their legislative representatives and Administration officials to commit to a package of housing rates increases they say are essential to ‘stop the bleeding.’

Family members brought a special sense of urgency to their talks with policy makers.

“As family members, we recognize the enormous role that qualified, caring staff plays in ensuring that our loved ones continue along the path to recovery, said Wendy Burch, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-NYS.

Ultimately, the housing rate increases will more than pay for themselves.

“Without that continuity of care, our loved ones can slip through the cracks, risking hospitalization, homelessness and incarceration, all of which are of much higher cost to the taxpayer than proactively investing in housing with well-trained, long-term staff,” Burch added.

“Community mental health nonprofits can no longer effectively compete with for-profit retail businesses that can offer higher rates of pay to their employees,” said Susan Parinello, mental health program manager for Long Island agency, ADD and NYAPRS Co-President.

“That’s because for profit organizations can raise prices to pay for salary and other increases,” agreed Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association of NYS. “Nonprofits do not have that option and must rely on the state to take action and do the right thing for New Yorkers with serious mental health conditions and their families.”

“Upwards of 80% of our agency’s workforce are working at more than one job just to make ends meet,” Parinello said.

Staffing shortages often require these workers to unexpectedly stay to work 2 shifts in a row, challenging their ability to keep those second or third jobs.

At the recent mental hygiene budget hearing, a number of state legislators expressed great concerns that efforts to bring salaries up to minimum wage levels by 2020 will still not be enough.

ADD housing staffer Pat Ward agreed. “Staff are simply overworked and underpaid for such an important job.”

And the crisis extends to every level of the community nonprofits.

Ellen Pendegar, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Ulster County has had to come in to cover weekend overnight shifts caused by inadequate staffing levels.

“All of us at the MHA are doing everything possible to keep our commitment to provide a stable and safe environment for the individuals we serve,” Pendegar added.

The Association for Community Living, the organization that supports mental health housing programs across the state, provided some alarming details.

“A recent survey of ACL Members showed staff turnover rates averaging between 35 to 74%. This is completely unacceptable,” said Doug Cooper, ACL Associate Executive Director.

“The relationships between staff and the people living in housing programs are the most important component of the service we provide,” Cooper added. “We must be provided the funding to compensate staff for their extraordinary dedication and service.”

The advocates are looking to top legislative leaders and the Governor to commit to a $38 million investment for each of the next 3 years to address the housing crisis, Liebman said.

“We can wait no longer,” Rosenthal said. “Our policy makers must address this shameful situation this session.”

Contact Information

  • Harvey Rosenthal, New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, 518-527-0564
  • Susan Parinello, Mental Health Program Director, Pat Ward, Staff Member; and Tiffany Monti, former resident, ADD, Riverhead, NY; 631-727-6220
  • Ellen Pendegar, CEO, Mental Health Association in Ulster County; 845-336-4747
  • Irene Turski and Wendy Burch, National Alliance on Mental Illness-New York State; Matthew Shapiro at 518-542-3437; 518-462-2000
  • Doug Cooper, Association for Community Living, 518-527-9768
  • Glenn Liebman, Mental Health Association of New York State, 518-360-7916