ALBANY, NY – Before the COVID pandemic, demand for mental health services was high.
This trend has continued to increase due to stay-at-home orders, isolation and other fallout from the pandemic. Yet, in New York, there are serious concerns that there are not enough mental health professionals to meet the needs of the ever-increasing demand for services. In a recent hearing, members of the New York State Assembly sought to examine the capacity and long-term sustainability of the mental health workforce and system in the state of New York.
The National Behavioral Health Council (NCBH) has reported that 77% of counties in the United States are experiencing a severe shortage of mental health care providers and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) estimates that by 2025, it there will be a shortage of over 250,000 mental health professionals. In New York State, service providers have reported drastic staff shortages that have led to some programs being cut or cut.
The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) has been allocated nearly $ 47 million in additional funding for Community Mental Health Services (CMHS) under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and $ 80 million under the American Rescue Plan Act. Of this funding, Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced that the OMH has allocated $ 21 million in workforce recruitment and retention funds.
Hopes were that the hearing would provide the committee with an opportunity to assess the need for mental health professionals statewide, to gather additional information on workforce strategies related to funding. of the CMHC block grant, as well as to review and review legislation and other initiatives that would aim to build workforce capacity for the long-term sustainability of the mental health service system .
Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director of the Association for Community Living (ACL) spoke of the need to improve these conditions.
ACL is a statewide organization of nonprofit agencies that provide housing and rehabilitation services to 40,000 people diagnosed with severe and persistent psychiatric disorders.
“The past 20 months have been incredibly difficult for the mental health housing workforce, which has prompted many to seek employment elsewhere. For those who remain, the need to work overtime to fill in the gaps is wreaking havoc and is not sustainable, ”Barrett said of the shortage.
“While no industry appears immune to the workforce shortages apparently linked to the pandemic, the staff vacancy rate in New York State’s mental health housing system was a concern. before COVID, and it just got worse, ”Barrett noted.
According to Barrett, a survey of their members showed that last October, the statewide average of job vacancies was approaching 15%; it then rose to 19% in May 2021, then to over 23% in October 2021. This means that nearly one in four positions in the state is vacant. Additionally, the survey noted that when vacancy and unavailability rates were combined, 34% of staff positions were vacant that week, meaning that one in three positions needed to be covered. This downtime was even higher in the capital region at 45%.
“Concretely, what does it look like? How do housing providers keep their programs open without more than a third of their workforce? Executives and other high-level employees fill direct care roles, ”Barrett noted of stretching resources.
“Imagine you’re short on staff and instead of being here today to hear our testimony you have to be in your office sorting mail, filing documents, and passing out memos. Not only is it inefficient, but these tasks, while necessary, are not the best use of your time, ”continued Barrett.
“This is what happens in mental health housing. Operations managers, CFOs, human resources managers, and program managers all work in direct care shifts. They transport residents to medical appointments, help them manage their medications and ensure that their living environment is safe. These are all important jobs, but not what these people were hired to do, ”Barrett explained with conditions.
“Not only does this negatively impact the functioning of these housing agencies, but it also negatively impacts residents and their recovery. Residents deserve consistent and competent caregivers with whom they can build a relationship of trust. In addition, when programs are understaffed, health and safety become a major concern. Serious illness and even death can occur when there are not enough staff to ensure the well-being of residents, ”noted Barrett of the impact of the staff shortage.
Additionally, Barrett explained why organizations like his are in critical need of more funding.
“We were delighted to see Governor Hochul’s announcement of $ 21 million to fund the recruitment and retention of the mental health workforce; however, residential programs are not eligible for this funding. Our understanding is that there will be separate federal funding available for residential programs that depend on Medicaid, but this will only benefit about 25% of the mental health housing workforce, leaving the majority of staff aside and causing inequalities that could lead to a much worse vacancy. rate in programs that don’t receive these funds, ”Barrett explained.
“With rising inflation and wages, a general adjustment is needed to prevent further erosion of funding. Due to decades of neglect, rising inflation, and sharply rising market rents, these programs need $ 177 million just to make up for years of underfunding. In addition, it is imperative that the 5.4% COLA for human services be funded, so that we can move forward towards providing a living wage to these essential workers. We need funds to raise salaries and support other incentives for recruitment and retention. We are eager to act. Now is the time to tackle the workforce crisis, ”added Barrett of the immediate need for additional funds.