In her second State of the State address, Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul outlined an am-bitious plan for improving New York’s response to mental health concerns.
Hochul delivered her speech Jan. 11 in Albany. She identified some of the factors that have exacerbated mental health issues for numerous individuals and offered her proposals for enhancing services.
“When it comes to keeping people safe and protecting their well-being, fixing New York’s mental health care system is essential — and long overdue. Even before COVID, rates of mental illness had been on the rise. And since the onset of the pandemic, more than one in three New Yorkers have sought mental health care or know someone who has,” she said during her address, according to a news release issued Jan 11 by her office. “Too many of them can’t get it. The barriers are seem-ingly endless. No appointments available close to home. Insurance won’t cover care. Long waits for psychiatric beds in hospitals. As a result, people have been forced to suffer in silence. Illness grows when it isn’t treated. And so, it is no sur-prise that the number of people suffering from mental illness has continued to grow. We have underinvested in mental health care for so long and allowed the situation to become so dire that it has become a public safety crisis as well. New Yorkers are anxious on the subway and on our streets when they see individuals who appear to need help, people who are unable to care for themselves properly, people who could cause harm to others or themselves, people who are at risk of being victimized. I’m declaring that the era of ignoring the needs of these individu-als is over. Because our success as government leaders is measured by our ability to lift up and support all our constituents. Today marks a reversal in our state’s approach to mental health care. This is a monumental shift to make sure no one falls through the cracks. The most significant change since the deinstitutionaliza-tion era of the 1970s.”
Hochul then announced her plan to have the state invest more than $1 billion and implement policy changes “to finally and fully meet the mental health needs of our state.” She wants to add 1,000 inpatient psychiatric beds, fund 150 new beds in state facilities and bring 850 psych beds in hospitals back online.
“We’ll also invest in services that allow patients to begin reintegrating in a way that is safe for them and for the community so our inpatient beds don’t get backed up because more appropriate outpatient treatment options are unavailable,” Hochul said. “We know that supportive housing is a tool for both prevention and recovery. That’s why my plan includes building more than 3,500 residential units supported by intensive mental health services. And we’ll make sure that as pa-tients move from one kind of treatment to another, no one gets left behind. Our plan requires facilities to discharge high-risk patients into intensive wrap-around services. And I’ll propose legislation that prohibits insurance companies from deny-ing access to critical mental health services.”
Hochul proposed reducing unmet mental health needs among children by half with-in five years. She also proposed helping people suffering from addiction, particular-ly to opioids, and toward cutting the supply of deadly street drug additives such as xylazine and fentanyl.
“We will keep expanding access to technology that can detect deadly additives be-fore they are used and that can reverse overdoses,” she said. “And we will create a new interagency task force that examines every possible solution because we must meet this crisis with the urgency it demands.”
The governor’s comments on addressing mental health problems drew praise from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers as well as health care representa-tives. It’s commendable that she opted to focus on this concern and wants to offer additional resources to meet people’s needs.
Of course, the devil will be in the details when it comes to turning Hochul’s plan in-to practical measures. She highlighted her overall vision for tackling this problem but provided few details on how it would be carried out.
Will her objectives make it easier for mental health professionals to deliver ser-vices more effectively to their clients? Or will this plan increase the bureaucratic obstacles that state agencies are known for imposing?
It will be essential for her and other state authorities to interact extensively with those working for organizations addressing mental health issues — particularly in rural areas such as Northern New York. They are the ones who know what’s lack-ing and how to better meet their needs.
As with any social ill, the state will never solve the mental health crisis. There will always be too few beds, clinics and providers to stamp out the problem.
However, focusing more intensely on the mental health needs of New Yorkers may make a difference for many. We still need to see specifics about how money will be allocated and what policies will be enacted.
But we applaud Hochul for starting a conversation about this. And we urge state legislators, municipal officials and health care professionals throughout the state to assist in any way they can to bring the changes necessary to improve people’s mental health.