Lawmakers hear PEF’s issues ranging from the Justice Center to no funding for state-operated programs
By DEBORAH A. MILES
Testifying before the Mental Hygiene Committee members of the state Legislature about the 2018 joint budget, PEF Executive Board members Randi DiAntonio and Darlene Williams spoke about the ways the state budget should be used to support state-operated programs and the professional workforce at the Office of Mental Health (OMH) and Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).
DiAntonio, a licensed master social worker who has been employed by OPWDD since 1999, told lawmakers OPWDD’s massive transformation agenda over the past five years has had some positive impact, but overall services and choices for consumers have diminished because of residential and program closures, plus lack of staffing and resources.
She said, “We are supportive of the proposal to convert the Bernard Fineson Developmental Disabilities Services Office into a transitional program for individuals being discharged from the OMH system and going into the OPWDD system. We believe this model allows the opportunity for a period of evaluation prior to placing someone into a residential setting that may not be in their best interest.”
DiAntonio emphasized that the $120 million in the Executive Budget for new residential development is allocated to go solely to the private not-for-profit sector.
“Not one single dime is going to the state-operated end,” DiAntonio said. “The state has reduced the number of specialized inpatient and intensive treatment beds by 1,300 without developing the community-based resources needed to provide appropriate care and treatment for those with behavioral, medical, or severely challenging psychiatric issues. We believe some of the money should be given to the state-operated end to develop specialized services, so people with these needs can be served and successfully treated in the communities where they live.”
DiAntonio also testified about the ripple effects caused by the way the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs handles cases of “frivolous accusations” which leads to putting highly-skilled people out of work, hesitation by direct care givers, recruitment and retention problems, and diminished clinical services to individuals. She also asked the committee to slow down the move to managed care until there is a detailed plan for implementation and allow PEF to have a voice in the Care Coordination Organizations/Health Homes initiative.
Williams, a certified occupational therapist for 37 years, said the challenges at OMH include recruitment and retention of staff, including psychiatrists and other professional titles, plus issues with the Justice Center, and the downsizing of inpatient beds in order to reinvest more resources in outpatient services.
“These challenges don’t boil down to just money,” Williams said. “We have nurses working voluntary and involuntary overtime, not getting time off, and dealing with health and safety issues such as violent attacks. Those issues have not decreased. I know nurses who keep food in their pockets because they are not getting the breaks they are entitled to have.
“As an OMH employee, I know our patients want treatment in a hospital facility and not in a jail. My son is a NYC detective and has told me how he has had to arrest people with mental illness and place them in jail because they are not getting the treatment they need and deserve. They need help in a treatment facility and not in a prison or jail.
“We have limited resources,” Williams said. “Mental illness doesn’t define our patients and limited resources don’t define us as professionals.”
She also thanked and asked the committee for their continued support to keep open the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca, and allow PEF to weigh-in on the proposed plans at Hutchings Psychiatric Center.
To view the video testimonies, go to http://nyassembly.gov/av/hearings/ and then click on 2-13-18 Joint Budget Hearing on Mental Hygiene.