Mental health is a crucial aspect of well-being, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused unprecedented stress, anxiety, and trauma for many people. Recognizing the need for more accessible and effective mental health care, Governor Kathy Hochul has announced a $1 billion plan to overhaul New York State’s continuum of mental health care.
The plan, which is part of the FY 2024 Budget, aims to create 3,500 new residential units for people with mental health challenges, expand the loan repayment program for mental health workers, establish statewide networks for youth and family peer support and advocacy, and enhance the quality and availability of community-based services.
Here are some of the highlights of the plan and how they will benefit New Yorkers:
Creating New Residential Units
One of the main challenges facing people with mental health issues is finding safe, affordable, and supportive housing. According to the Office of Mental Health, there are currently more than 40,000 people on the waiting list for supportive housing in New York State.
To address this gap, the plan provides $890 million in capital and $120 million in operating funding to establish and operate 3,500 new residential units serving those with mental health challenges. These units will include a range of options, such as transitional housing, supportive housing, and community residences, to meet the diverse needs and preferences of individuals and families.
The plan also includes $38.6 million for 12 supportive housing projects across the state, which will create 479 units for people with mental health and substance use disorders, as well as veterans, seniors, and survivors of domestic violence. For example, one of the projects is the YWCA of Binghamton and Broome County, which will receive $6.6 million to develop 38 units in Binghamton for women and children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Expanding the Loan Repayment Program
Another challenge facing the mental health system is the shortage of qualified and diverse mental health professionals, especially in underserved areas. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there are 124 mental health professional shortage areas in New York State, affecting more than 3.6 million people.
To attract and retain skilled mental health workers, the plan expands the Community Mental Health Loan Repayment Program, which provides up to $120,000 for psychiatrists and $30,000 for other mental health professionals to repay their student loans, provided they remain employed by licensed community mental health programs for three years.
The program, which was established in 2022 with $9 million in funding, has been extended to include many other licensed mental health professionals, such as social workers, therapists, psychoanalysts, and psychologists. The program also has an additional $5 million in funding, bringing the total to $14 million, which will support 500 awards, including 200 set aside to improve workforce diversity.
Establishing Statewide Networks
Another component of the plan is to create two statewide networks that will offer resources and information for youth and families who are seeking or receiving mental health care. The networks will be funded with $10 million over five years and will be administered by the Office of Mental Health.
The Statewide Network for Youth Peer Support and Advocacy will help empower young people towards personal recovery and resiliency in their treatment. The network will provide training, mentoring, and certification for youth peer advocates, who are young adults with lived experience of mental health challenges who provide support and guidance to other youth in similar situations.
The Statewide Network for Family Peer Support and Advocacy will help strengthen the role of family peer advocates, who are parents or caregivers of children with mental health issues who provide support and education to other families. The network will offer technical assistance, quality improvement, and data collection for family peer support services, as well as input and feedback to inform future policies and programs.
Enhancing Community-Based Services
The final element of the plan is to improve the quality and availability of community-based mental health services, which are essential for preventing, treating, and recovering from mental health challenges. The plan includes several initiatives, such as:
- Increasing the reimbursement rates for mental health services provided by licensed professionals, such as psychologists, social workers, and counselors, to ensure fair and adequate compensation.
- Expanding the availability of telehealth and telepsychiatry services, which allow people to access mental health care remotely through phone or video calls, especially in rural and remote areas.
- Supporting the development and implementation of evidence-based practices, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and trauma-informed care, which have been proven to be effective for various mental health conditions.
- Enhancing the coordination and integration of mental health care with primary care, substance use treatment, and other social services, to ensure a holistic and comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of individuals and families.
Governor Hochul’s $1 billion plan to overhaul New York State’s continuum of mental health care is a bold and ambitious initiative that will make a significant difference in the lives of millions of New Yorkers who struggle with mental health challenges. By investing in housing, workforce, peer support, and community services, the plan will create a more accessible, effective, and responsive mental health system that will promote recovery, resiliency, and well-being for all.