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State’s mental health housing system faces crisis

Toni Lasicki |  November 30, 2017

New York’s mental health housing system is at a financial breaking point. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers with serious psychiatric disabilities rely on community-based mental health housing to help them reintegrate into their communities and recover. A statewide funding shortfall puts all of them at risk of displacement. Without this housing, these New Yorkers are hospitalized, become homeless, enter nursing homes or are incarcerated. All at much higher cost to taxpayers.

Make no mistake; this is a healthcare and moral crisis. New York is facing a dilemma: become a national model for how states can successfully protect a population that so desperately needs support, or watch the system collapse and become an example of what can go wrong.

Our state has historically been a national leader in mental healthcare. Under the leadership of both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his father Mario, New York set new national standards for caring for, and protecting, people with psychiatric disabilities. However, despite offering a breadth and depth of mental health housing that is unparalleled in the nation with approximately 40,000 units, the state has not kept its promise to adequately fund these housing programs that care for our family members, friends and neighbors who most need help.

By not providing these housing programs the funding they need, recovery can be impacted negatively to point of destroying lives and families. Beyond these moral implications, which are troubling enough, ignoring this funding crisis will also create a tremendous burden for New York’s taxpayers. When these residents are forced to seek care in an emergency room, the heightened cost of treatment and interventions are borne by taxpayers. When they are incarcerated, often for minor infractions, they end up in prisons or jails where the annual cost can exceed $55,000 per person. When they are hospitalized, the cost is over $300,000. This is entirely unsustainable, both for the New Yorkers suffering from psychiatric disabilities and for the state’s taxpayers.

Right now, our state’s 17 psychiatric hospitals house just 3,200 people, at a cost of approximately $310,000 per person. Meanwhile, the state funds each community-based housing unit at between $7,600 and $40,000 per person per year, which is completely insufficient for providers to offer the critical services they are obligated to provide – especially for those programs that include room and board, medication supervision, case management, transportation, rehabilitation services, 24-hour staffing and more.

And this is truly a statewide problem, with thousands of people being served in every corner of the state. Nearly half of our population – nearly 22,000 – live in New York City and the surrounding suburbs, including Westchester County. But nearly 5,000 live in the Hudson Valley and Albany, with another 4,400 in Buffalo, Rochester and surrounding areas and more than 3,700 on Long Island. More than 36,000 people are served in this system of housing, operated by non-profits, across the state.

The residents who receive care in community-based housing are living, breathing New Yorkers. They are our neighbors and family members who suffer from psychiatric disabilities, and who deserve stable, affordable housing with supports and accessible treatment and services. Without the critical foundation of a stable home with supports, the most vulnerable of our neighbors need to constantly start their recovery over again, losing momentum and falling farther and farther away from the goal of becoming part of the community once again. Proper funding will end this inhumane cycle.

Millions of New Yorkers are touched by mental illness, through family members, colleagues and friends alike. It’s time for our state leaders to make the right choice on their behalf. Without adequate funding, we risk losing our stature as leaders. Instead, let’s show the rest of the country how to handle a health crisis and become a model of how a strong system can succeed when it’s properly supported.

Poughkeepsie Journal

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