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Guest Blog: Bring It Home Campaign Advocates for Mental Health Housing Evaluation Commission

07.25.2019

ACL Executive Director Toni Lasicki calls on the Governor to sign the Mental Health Housing Commission Bill, which would evaluate the adequacy of funding levels for mental health housing.

Association for Community Living logo (left); Bring It Home

By Toni Lasicki, Executive Director of Association for Community Living

This year’s final state budget, passed in April, included a small amount of funding for Office of Mental Health (OMH) housing rate increases and rehab and renovation of existing housing stock. While appreciated, we know it is not nearly enough to address years of disinvestment of the system, which needs a much larger infusion of resources to remain viable. 

Therefore, at the end of the 2019 Legislative Session in June, the Assembly and Senate unanimously passed the “Mental Health Housing Commission Bill” (S5637/A7489) to create a temporary Office of Mental Health Housing Program Evaluation Commission. This commission would make determinations and recommendations regarding OMH mental health housing on the adequacy of funding levels, numbers of direct care and professional staff, the level of programmatic needs of the residents, and the ability of the programs to meet such needs. These programs have not been evaluated, nor has the acuity of the clients in their care been evaluated, in more than 30 years.

Community-based nonprofit providers are the backbone of our complex mental health housing system for 40,000 New Yorkers with serious and persistent psychiatric illnesses. They are responsible for providing housing and rehabilitation services to clients experiencing the most complicated behavioral health and medical illnesses. Yet, these programs are struggling. Today, staff are paid minimum wage or just above it to work with some of the vulnerable individuals in care. Nurses and other professional staff are not funded. Because of the funding erosion, staff in the programs often work alone, even while supervising hundreds of medications, creating Medicaid service plans, engaging clients in Medicaid reimbursable services, and writing the Medicaid billable notes that must pass an Office of Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) audit. Supportive housing (a non-Medicaid program) stipends that originally allocated 50% for rent and 50% for services are now spending 90% for rents in some areas of the state with little to no funding for staff, QA, property management, or the myriad other responsibilities that they carry. New state and local government mandates have stretched across administrations, but they operate below industry averages with 9% to 11% administrative shares because they move resources directly to the programs as much as possible.

The bill has received media attention since its passage.  The Albany Times-Union published an article titled, “Are NY's mental health housing programs at risk?” and the Albany Times-Union Editorial Board also expressed its support for the bill with published “A matter of mental health.” Bring it Home Campaign also started an e-letter email campaign allowing participants to email the Governor urging him to sign the bill.

It’s a matter of human dignity to allow and enable mentally ill people to live in the least restrictive environment possible. And it’s a matter of public interest and safety that it be done right, which includes adequate funding. A half-century into this experiment, it’s worth knowing if New York is still on that noble track.

- Albany Times Union Editorial Board

New York State has a moral obligation to provide adequate resources to contracted nonprofits that are expected to execute the state responsibilities for its residents. The state needs to examine its policies, resource levels, and expectations in the community-based mental health housing system and resolve any shortcomings that result in inadequate care and staffing. The failure to sufficiently fund these programs means that the state is failing the most vulnerable among us.

Join the Bring It Home Campaign in sending your e-letter to the Governor to urge him to sign the bill ASAP.

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