Home » Legislature » Kent battles to save state provided public mental health services in communities at Rockland County Senate hearing

Kent battles to save state provided public mental health services in communities at Rockland County Senate hearing

PEF President Susan M. Kent testified before a state Senate Committee on Mental Health headed by Sen. David Carlucci in Rockland County October 22.

Kent’s testimony emphasized the vital need for the state to reinvest in community public health care from the savings that will result from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed closures of state Office of Mental Health facilities.

“When public facilities close, the savings from the closures rarely make it into the community and the results are disastrous,” she said.

“It is so important we work together and utilize all of the expertise available to us, which includes my members. We need to forge a plan that protects patients and serves the needs of our communities,” Kent continued. “My members are the mental health professionals whose expertise and knowledge is invaluable.”

See President Kent’s testimony below:

Good morning. My name is Susan Kent and I’m the President of the Public Employees Federation representing 54,000 employees statewide. We appreciate you holding hearings about the current state of New York State’s mental health care services.

First, on behalf of our members at the Office of Mental Health, I want to thank you for your leadership in ensuring in this year’s State Budget that any savings resulting from Governor Cuomo’s proposed mental health care facilities closures be reinvested in community mental health care services to follow the patients prior to the closing of these facilities. As we have seen far too often, when public facilities close the savings from the closures rarely make it into the community and the results are disastrous. Patients with nowhere to go do not receive the care or treatment they need.  Many end up in costlier emergency rooms, on the streets, in jail or prison or even worse. 

As you may be aware, The Treatment Advocacy Center is a national non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness.According to an April, 2014 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, there are ten times as many mentally ill individuals in jail or prison as there are receiving necessary treatment in psychiatric inpatient facilities.  Jails and prisons have become the new alternative to inpatient psychiatric facilities in our society because the money saved from closing facilities was never reinvested into community mental health care programs.

That is why it was crucial to push a requirement to reinvest those savings into the community at the beginning of the process and before any actual facility closure. Your leadership in sponsoring that legislation in the Senate, Senator Carlucci, is vital for both the patients and my members.

Last month, OMH began releasing funding for various community-based programs totaling $6.6 million around New York State. Just last week OMH announced that the Hudson Valley would receive $2.25 million for several counties, including $449,668 for Rockland County and $225,000 for Sullivan County. As an initial investment for community based services these dollars are a good and positive step forward, if such investments can better manage mental health care so those in need remain active and healthy persons in the community. Those individuals most at risk of emergency room visits and hospitalizations must have competent mental health care treatment available to them in the community now more than ever before. Unlike a system that had the ability to refer a seriously mentally ill individual to inpatient services, that option will be limited based on the Governor’s plan to limit access to inpatient services. Therefore, it is imperative that the expert professionals who presently provide such care in facilities must also be available in the community. State provided services are necessary.

We seek your help during this transition to make sure we are included in the ongoing process of development and implementation of the plans as these services are transitioned to the community. It is so important that we work together and utilize all of the expertise available to us, which includes my members, in forging a plan that protects patients, serves the needs of our communities and continues the high quality of care provided by mental health professionals whose expertise and knowledge is invaluable.

In an effort to suspend certain passage of legislation that would have placed a moratorium on facility closures, the Governor agreed with the Senate and the Assembly to a number of conditions including the formation of a workgroup with union representatives to put together a long term plan on how we will provide mental health and developmental disability services in the future. Although PEF did appoint representatives who served on the Regional Center of Excellence Committees, to date, PEF has not been asked to participate in any other work groups since the Regional Centers of Excellence Committees were disbanded.

And again thanks to your leadership, Sen. Carlucci and your colleagues, requiring a detailed plan for the savings from the closing of inpatient psychiatric facilities be reinvested into community based mental health care services prior to the commencement of the closing of these facilities is absolutely crucial to ensure not only that the necessary care is provided but is also provided by experts. This is crucial because the inpatient mental health care facility closures have historically led to a deplorable lack of mental health care services. Homelessness, suicides, crimes and incarceration of the mentally ill resulted. In addition, too many individuals with mental illness, having no place to go, fall victim to violent crimes and many are unable to manage chronic health illnesses such as asthma and diabetes which results in unnecessary hospitalizations.

As I mentioned, recently OMH has delivered additional funding for community-based mental health care services throughout the State. As we continue to review these reinvestments it is important to determine which, if any, of these services can deliver the necessary care and supports that patients would otherwise need to receive as they transition from the psychiatric facilities to the community.

We must be a major stakeholder in the process moving forward. We have the experience and expertise in the delivery of mental health care services that must be included in any plan. Our members know their patients, mental illness and best practices in various settings and are always developing informed and creative methods in providing quality care to our patients. While there have been indications that PEF members and other public employees will eventually be shifted to community-based treatment services along with the patients, no details of this process have not yet been provided.

We stand by our earlier statements that closing inpatient psychiatric facilities will result in a multitude of problems for patients and have a negative economic effect on the communities these facilities serve. We fear dangerous patients will fall through the cracks, many of whom will become victims of violence, while others will harm someone else. With so many mentally ill individuals in jail and prison, we remain worried that New York will follow a similar path witnessed in other states that closed too many state psychiatric inpatient facilities, as reported in the Treatment Advocacy Center report released last April.   

PEF represents nearly 7,000 OMH employees. They are invested in their communities and possess the clinical expertise that provides an important piece of the safety net for New York’s most vulnerable citizens. Please help us to ensure that these critical services for the mentally ill are maintained.