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Mental Health Groups Want More From State Budget

  Mental health groups say they are being left out of a massive reshuffling of the state’s Medicaid program, and that people with mental illness transitioning back to their communities will suffer.

The mental health advocates and provider groups say the state needs to spend more money on community housing and other services for the mentally ill. Harvey Rosenthal, with the Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, says the funding has been in decline in recent state budgets, and with the record windfall settlements with major banks, $3.2 billion, there’s enough money to replenish the funds. Rosenthal says without the money, some of the state’s most vulnerable people are at risk.

“We’re talking here about people with the most serious mental health conditions,” Rosenthal said. “Who, if not for these services, would be homeless or incarcerated.”

Rosenthal and others also questioned some of Governor Cuomo’s budget priorities, including a plan to use some of the bank settlement monies to offer discounts on Thruway tolls.

“Providing assistance to New Yorkers with the most serious needs must take precedence over giving a tax credit for frequent Thruway users,” he said.

For several years, the state, with the strong support of the community mental health care advocates, has been closing hospital beds in psych centers and investing instead in community based services. But the groups say they are being shortchanged this year, with $5.5 million diverted to beds at nursing homes and long term care facilities instead.

They say $44 million is being taken from housing services, which include group homes, and subsidized apartments.

They are seeking a one time supplement of $90 million, and they’d like an additional $92 million more for annual cost of living increases that they say have stagnated for the past 7 years.

Toni Lasicki, with the Association for Community Living says part of the money would also help finance all of the upgrades that are needed as they cope with the shift in the state’s Medicaid program to more managed care, which requires a new level of sophistication, including electronic records and many more requirements to fulfill.

“There’s so much that you have to do to prepare for the new world,” Lasicki said. “And there’s no infusion of cash for us.”

The groups say it’s much more expensive to pay for hospital care for people who can’t get a subsided apartment, or access to outpatient services. It cost around $400,000 a year for someone to stay in a state hospital, and around $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Subsidized housing can cost as little as $7500 a year, and up to $30,000 a year in some cases, where a mentally ill person needs multiple services.

The groups also believe they need will need more financial help from the state to pay staff if the Governor’s $15 an hour minimum wage proposal becomes law.

The Cuomo administration did not have an immediate response. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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