Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1085 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 04:39:46 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Part of ThriveNYC, NYCHA Trains Staff in Mental Health First Aid http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7049:part-of-thrivenyc-nycha-trains-staff-in-mental-health-first-aid http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7049:part-of-thrivenyc-nycha-trains-staff-in-mental-health-first-aid 5716575756 06b18d2c43 z

NYCHA community gathering at Queensbridge (Pete Mikoleski/NYCHA flickr) 


At a recent training session, just over 35 New York City Housing Authority staff members assembled at the authority’s downtown offices last Thursday. The course, which included eight topics, was part of the city’s ThriveNYC mental health care plan, one piece of which is 2,000 NYCHA employees receiving mental health care training so that they can more carefully and helpfully interact with public housing residents who may be experiencing mental health challenges.

The eight session subjects included first aid, substance abuse, suicide, and eating disorders. Participants told personal stories of dealing with mental illness, discussed circumstances they had encountered in the past in serving NYCHA residents, and asked questions about how best to approach hypothetical scenarios they suspected may occur.

When suffering from mental illness, “people often turn to people they know or agencies they trust, or people they see in their communities,” said Dr. Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner of mental hygiene for the city, who visited the training. Belkin explained that mental illness and mental health challenges are more prevalent among NYCHA’s residents, who number around 500,000, than the population at large.

ThriveNYC was launched by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, who was motivated by seeing many around her benefit from receiving aid for mental health ailments. “I heard many stories of triumph that reminded me of a fundamental truth: Mental illness is treatable. When people have access to the resources they need, they can live their lives to the fullest,” McCray wrote in a roadmap for ThriveNYC. The $850 million program aims to make mental health care more available and changing norms around the general issue to make receiving care more appealing to New Yorkers, many of whom are unaware of their options or are unwilling to seek assistance.

According to a 2015 report from the city Department of Health, one in five New Yorkers suffers from mental illness, including challenges ranging from acute depression to schizophrenia. Forty-one percent of those with mental illness said they did not receive or were delayed in getting treatment in the past year, according to the ThriveNYC website. One major ThriveNYC goal is training 250,00 New Yorkers in mental health first aid, thus working to combat the larger problem by making New York City communities more aware of both the signs that an individual may be in need of assistance and the resources available to those with mental health challenges.

On the side of the room in which the NYCHA training session was held last week stood signs with contact information for mental health hotlines both nationally and in New York City, for use in connecting residents to care providers.

NYCHA is a particularly important organization in the city’s battle against mental illness, Dr. Belkin told the staff members gathered for the training. Just before the lunch break, he spoke to trainees about how their close relationships with New Yorkers are essential to providing help to those suffering with mental health issues.

Dr. Belkin said that NYCHA workers, who forge bonds and establish trust with NYCHA residents, are well-positioned to assist in achieving key ThriveNYC goals. NCYHA employees have a “kind of a familiarity and a closeness” with low-income New Yorkers that others, such as doctors and nurses, don’t, Belkin said in an interview with Gotham Gazette following his remarks to the NYCHA staff. “It’s a real opportunity to be credible to the people we’re trying to reach,” he said. “It seems like a natural fit.”

NYCHA residents are a particularly important cohort to reach, too, Dr. Belkin explained. “It's not just the proximity and credibility with residents that NYCHA has but also this is a group of New Yorkers we need to reach,” he said. “People residing in NYCHA housing or rental assisted housing, or either, are two to three times more likely to have what we call ‘serious psychological distress,’” said Dr. Belkin, referencing an umbrella term used in health department community surveys that includes a range of illnesses. NYCHA tenants are a “population we need to make sure is connected and feels like they have a point of entry to mental health that's more familiar and not as stigmatized,” Belkin said.

Marina Oteiza, Borough Administrator for Family Partnerships in Manhattan at NYCHA, echoed Dr. Belkin’s optimism in regards to non-medical professionals ability to help people on this front. “A lot of lay people can do this,” she said of efforts to identify mental illness and direct those in need of assistance to the right place. “You don't necessarily need a social worker,” she said of NYCHA employees making connections to services for residents. “If you’re meeting with them, you're comfortable talking to them, you have a rapport with them. You can facilitate that a lot quicker than a social worker,” she said. “It does not need to be with a trained mental health professional,” she continued. “It can be with someone who cares and has an empathetic ear.” Good bedside manner, coupled with formal training would create an effective force towards the goal of improving NYCHA residents’ health and safety with regard to widespread mental health issues, she argued.

During the session, the instructor placed strong emphasis on destigmatizing mental illness, and making sure employees adopted a sympathetic, non-judgmental posture towards those with acute and chronic mental health issues. These ailments are medically treatable conditions and should be seen as such. The session leaders emphasized that mental health issues come about from no fault of the victim’s and did not result from an individual’s actions or character nor from weakness. Nobody should be ashamed or embarrassed for requesting medical attention, they stressed.

Helen Reinstein, certified mental health instructor and senior management trainer with the Learning and Development Unit of Human Resources at NYCHA, was in attendance at Thursday’s training in NYCHA offices at 250 Broadway. “You wouldn't hesitate to talk to someone with a broken arm about getting their arm set and getting the follow up care they need,” Reinstein said of the need to normalize mental health care. “We want people to feel the same way about mental health issues.”

Trainees were introduced to frameworks for types of circumstances they may have to handle in the field and were provided with scripted lines to use should these situations arise. The NYCHA staffers -- employees who help run and maintain NYCHA buildings, properties, and programs -- were also instructed on warning signs of mental illness and techniques to reach people that do not make a concerted effort to alert others of their struggles. Look at “body language,” said Tajhma Carroll, assistant director of Brooklyn Leased Housing, a NYCHA division. She then listed a few frequent indicators they were informed often suggest someone may be in need of treatment. “Sweats, they mentioned, hands or legs shaking. Those are telltale signs,” she said. “It's not only in what they say,” Carroll added.

People “isolated and alone in their house” or who engage in hoarding, wherein individuals store an excessive amount of things in their homes, leading to cramped, unhygienic living environments, are also causes for concern, Oteiza said. “If they’re not letting you into the apartment, that’s going to be a red flag for us,” she said.

If signs aren’t identified and those suffering from mental health problems are unaware of options available to them or unwilling to access medical attention, people may turn to other means to relieve their pain, Reinstein noticed. “A lot of times, people are using illegal substance in order to try to get to a place of feeling normal and using it as self-medication rather than seeking the care and intervention they really need,” she said.

As part of their education, NYCHA workers were instructed to ask some of the toughest questions when evidence warrants them, such as “have you ever considered suicide?” and “do you have a plan to kill yourself?” Those involved acknowledged how hard it can be to ask those questions or to inform someone their condition can only be properly alleviated by receiving a medical evaluation. During the training sessions, NYCHA staff constantly grappled with the challenge of ensuring people are getting the assistance they need, while also lending them enough personal space. “I do think there is a natural reticence to be intrusive, which is a good thing,” said Sherman.

Most trainees appeared to buy into the strategy of being active and quick to inquire if they detect signals that something may be amiss for a NYCHA resident. “So far people have been very receptive,” Reinstein said. “We’re excited about this training,” said Sherman. “I think that we’re really creating a culture where our staff really has the confidence to be able to interact with people, to de-escalate where it’s appropriate, to connect people with resources.”

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Part of ThriveNYC, NYCHA Trains Staff in Mental Health First Aid Wed, 05 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Resets First Budget Hearing for New Veterans Affairs Department http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6261:city-resets-first-budget-hearing-for-new-veterans-affairs-department http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6261:city-resets-first-budget-hearing-for-new-veterans-affairs-department veterans outside city hall flags

photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office


In December, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law the City Council bill creating a separate, dedicated Veterans Affairs department which would take over responsibility from the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) in handling services for more than 200,000 military veterans living in New York City.

By law, the new department will be official on April 10 and the fiscal year 2017 budget being negotiated between the de Blasio administration and the City Council will outline its first agency allocation and spending plan. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1.

As part of ongoing Council hearings on the mayor’s $82 billion preliminary budget, the new veterans affairs department was scheduled for a session on March 21. As is usually the case in such hearings, where agency heads and other administration officials testify before a Council committee, MOVA Commissioner Loree Sutton would have testified, Council members would have asked her questions, and advocates and members of the public would have aired their concerns.

But, owing to the transition of veterans affairs from the Mayor’s Office to a full-fledged department, the hearing was deferred. “It doesn’t officially become a department in name till April 10,” said Joe Bello, a member of the city’s Veterans Advisory Board, “and it doesn’t become a real department budgetary-wise till July 1. So there was really no preliminary budget to discuss.”

The Council veterans affairs committee’s preliminary budget hearing couldn’t really occur because the mayor and his budget office had not established a budget for the new veterans affairs department in the initial spending plan.

Instead, it will be taken up when the administration and City Council get down to brass tacks during executive budget negotiations. The Council will soon release its preliminary budget response, which will trigger closed-door discussions and lead to the mayor’s release of his revised spending plan later in April, followed by another round of hearings. The new veterans department is expected to be included in the executive budget and to have a budget hearing thereafter.

Last year, the MOVA budget was $1.9 million, up from $600,000 the previous year, “the largest increase in its 29 year existence,” according to the VAB’s annual report.  Between January and July 2015, MOVA’s full-time staff increased from six to 20.

The administration is also doubling down on its commitments through other initiatives. In late March, the first veterans affairs satellite office opened in Queens. Then, on March 28, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and MOVA announced partnerships with the private sector to end veteran homelessness, with an investment of $750,000. It’s not clear yet, however, what the total budget for fiscal 2017 will entail.

“As we've said, we are determining costs for the new agency and expect it to be reflected in the executive budget,” said Amy Spitalnick, spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget. “We look forward to working with the Council on this and more throughout the budget process.”

Spitalinick declined to provide details of what the executive budget may include.

Bello from the VAB, a Navy veteran, is not worried about the preliminary budget hearing being scrapped. “As an advocate, I just want them to get it right,” he said. He expects significant increases in the budget and said the department could have as many as 35 staffers by the end of the year. “They gotta ramp up personnel. They gotta ramp up services,” he added.

City services for military veterans include helping connect them to federal programs and often deal with housing, education, employment, and health care needs.

Bello spoke of the ThriveNYC mental health roadmap the city has released, which touches on veterans, and mentioned conversations with the de Blasio administration on veteran homelessness as well. He wasn’t sure if the latter would be directly tackled by the new department or remain under the purview of the Department of Homeless Services.

“I don’t know what I’m expecting,” said Kristen Rouse, an Army veteran and president and founding director of NYC Veterans Alliance, an advocacy group. Rouse is a bit more skeptical than Bello, insisting on a line-by-line breakdown of the department’s budget. “They’ve never put out a policy paper saying, ‘Here’s what we’re doing on veterans services and here’s how much we’re spending,’” she said. “The administration has quoted a lot of different numbers to us.”

While she appreciates the administration’s initiatives, she hopes for an explanation of the budget to the veterans community and outreach for advice from veterans once a hearing is set. “I would hope that members of our community will be notified so we can contribute to it,” she said. Bello echoed the sentiment and said the VAB has been soliciting comments online from veterans in the city. “The public and advocates wouldn’t be able to give feedback if there wasn’t a hearing,” he said.

A spokesperson for City Council Member Eric Ulrich, chair of the veterans affairs committee, insisted that the Council will hear from veterans themselves. “We look forward to working collaboratively with all the interested parties to ensure New York City provides the highest level of service to our veterans,” said Kevin Tschirhart, Ulrich’s director of communications. “Issues regarding the budget will be taken up at the executive budget hearings and will be finalized in coming months.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Resets First Budget Hearing for New Veterans Affairs Department Mon, 04 Apr 2016 05:00:00 +0000
City Council to Begin Public Examination of Mayor's Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6198:city-council-to-begin-public-examination-of-mayors-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6198:city-council-to-begin-public-examination-of-mayors-budget de blasio council budget briefing

Mayor de Blasio briefs Council members on his FY17 budget (William Alatriste)


On Tuesday, the City Council will hold the first of many preliminary budget hearings on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initial fiscal year 2017 spending plan, part of a months-long negotiation process that will end in June when the City Council and the Mayor must agree upon a budget for fiscal year 2017.

First in general terms, then agency by agency, the Council will ask de Blasio administration representatives to explain spending and programmatic choices. Council members will examine overall budgeting principles, looking at savings from prior years and money socked away in case of an economic downturn, as well as how clearly the administration is showing what money is being allocated for. Throughout the weeks of hearings, members will also push for their individual funding priorities, such as summer youth employment and efforts to fight gun violence and rape.

General Budgeting & Savings
Mayor Bill de Blasio released an $82.1 billion preliminary budget on Jan. 21, which he described as “boring” and short on “splashy new” initiatives, instead stressing fiscal responsibility and building reserves, with increased “targeted investments” to address the homelessness crisis, fund pension obligations, and reduce school overcrowding, among other priorities.

Signs of an imminent economic slowdown after years of growth and the specter of losing state aid loomed over de Blasio’s budget address, yet the preliminary budget set aside less money in savings than budgets have in previous years. The administration says they have unprecedented reserves, but watchdogs say that the “budget cushion” is not as deep as it should be.

The preliminary budget contains about $740 million in new agency spending, a relatively modest amount, including $62 million for ThriveNYC, the city’s multifaceted plan to increase access to improved mental health services and $53.7 million more on programs to address homelessness. With the City Council, de Blasio has increased the city budget significantly since taking office, largely due to the settling of many municipal labor contracts that were left expired at the end of the Bloomberg years. But, there have also been large increases in agency spending, including the addition of 2,000 new officers to the NYPD and billions more toward affordable housing development and homelessness-fighting.

The mayor’s preliminary budget did not account for the proposals in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget that would change the way CUNY and Medicaid are funded, which would cost the city nearly $1 billion starting in fiscal year 2017. Cuomo has since backtracked on the proposed cuts, saying they “won’t cost New York City a penny,” and that he wants to collaborate to find efficiencies and savings in the programs. There have been no signs of any conversations to that effect, though, and questions around how the city is accounting for these potential losses in state aid, and others, are sure to come up during preliminary budget hearings.

Council members, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, and the Citizen’s Budget Commission have all called on the mayor to find more recurring savings in the budget and to build up reserves to safeguard against a financial downturn.

A majority of City Council members sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio on Dec. 31 calling on the mayor to instruct all city agencies to find five percent in potential savings in their budgets. The letter, spearheaded by Council Member Dan Garodnick, was signed by 26 of the 51 Council members, including chair of the finance committee, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. Ferreras-Copeland will be center stage for budget hearings, especially Tuesday’s kickoff where de Blasio’s budget director, Dean Fuleihan, will testify.

Though the letter did not explicitly say so, Council members were asking the mayor to institute a PEG, or Program to Eliminate the Gap, a cost-saving practice used by previous administrations that Mayor de Blasio did away with after taking office in favor of a Citywide Savings Program (CSP). A CSP encourages agency commissioners to find savings, but does not set a percentage.

Mayor de Blasio did not include a PEG in his preliminary budget, though he has since said that a PEG is something he is “seriously considering” for the executive budget and is sure to be discussed during the upcoming budget hearings. After several weeks of hearings, the Council will craft its official preliminary budget response, then de Blasio will put together his executive budget, before another round of hearings and continued negotiations leading to a June deal.

Comptroller Stringer has echoed the Council members’ call for implementing a PEG, and released an analysis of the mayor’s preliminary budget on Feb. 10 which pointed out several areas of concern amid an overall positive financial outlook for the city. Stringer has said the “budget cushion” Mayor de Blasio has allocated is not enough to adequately prepare for an economic downturn, and that the comptroller’s office expects larger budget gaps in the coming years than the mayor’s plan accounts for.

The Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) has also called for more savings, and has said the Citywide Savings Program is too small, does not include enough efficiency initiatives, and cannot sufficiently offset the costs of new initiatives or build up reserves. As the CBC points out, the planned savings in the preliminary budget amount to $1.9 billion in savings over fiscal years 2016 to 2019 - 0.6 percent of total city-funded spending.

The CBC has urged Mayor de Blasio to direct his agencies to “identify operational efficiencies that provide recurring savings” ahead of his executive budget proposal which would not only increase the budget cushion, but also make agencies run more efficiently. The mayor has indicated that he may go further than the current savings plan and will look at increasing agency savings before releasing the executive budget, due in late April or early May.

Ahead of the first preliminary budget hearing on March 1, Gotham Gazette spoke with Council members about their priorities and concerns for the upcoming FY17 budget. Securing funding to expand the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program, speaking out against the proposed funding cuts to CUNY and Medicaid, and advocating for greater savings in the budget appear to be some of the Council’s top priorities.

Council Member Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the finance committee and one of the key figures in the budget negotiations, said she aims to “use the process to ensure we are being transparent and fiscally prudent as a city, while mitigating any potential risks the State budget might pose to the city.” Ferreras-Copeland has also previously expressed that the Council is keen to evaluate how the preliminary budget addresses healthcare and pension costs, and that the Department of Education capital plan will be an important issue as many districts struggle with school overcrowding.

Last year, Ferreras-Copeland led the first budget hearing by pushing de Blasio budget reps on “units of appropriation” in the budget, meaning that she and her colleagues want to see more carefully laid-out line items in agency spending, not lump sums. That could be a source of tension again this year.

Specific Priorities
In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Ferreras-Copeland said that she will be paying “special attention to the Council’s priorities, which include the Health and Hospitals financial plan, as well as how to better support youth jobs during the summer and throughout the school year.”

Supporting youth employment is also a priority for Council Member Jumaane Williams, among others. On Feb. 24, Williams, joined by the Community Service Society and several of his colleagues, called on the city to support 100,000 summer jobs by April 1, which would require an additional $95 million in funding, and to enhance the current model of the Summer Youth Employment Program in order to better connect summer jobs to school experiences and ensure better quality programming.

According to a report released by the Community Service Society, summer youth employment reduces risky behavior and has a generally positive impact on academic, behavioral, and employment-related outcomes for children. Over 100,000 youths in New York City have applied for the Summer Youth Employment Program, yet the City has only funded 55,000 program slots.

Williams told Gotham Gazette he believes “there is a lot of push throughout the Council for [youth employment] to be one of the top priorities,” and also wants to see funding allotted to pilot a new model of the summer jobs program in a limited number of high schools, and increased funding to double year-round youth employment, an initiative that is spearheaded by Ferreras-Copeland.

Funding for summer after school programs for middle school students is another issue to watch as budget talks begin. Mayor de Blasio's preliminary budget eliminates the funding for the programs which serve about 34,000 middle school students.

Last year, de Blasio’s preliminary budget cut funding for afterschool programs, only to restore funding in the executive budget after Council members and advocates criticized the administration for eliminating the programs and pushed for the funding to be restored.

This year, Mayor de Blasio has said that while “the summer programs are a very good thing, we just don’t feel we can afford it at this point. We’ll take another look going into the executive budget.”

“But this time,” the mayor added, “we’re saying no, we’re not going to fund that. People should not assume it’s coming. They should not prepare for it.”

As chair of the Committee on Housing a Buildings (for which the preliminary budget hearing is March 3), Williams will also be looking to make sure “everything housing related is properly funded with groups that are able to help prevent displacement,” and wants to make sure “that Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings have the assistance they need, particularly technology-wise and for hiring additional staff for things like inspections.”

Preventing displacement is one of many important aspects to remedying the city’s homelessness crisis, however, regarding Mayor de Blasio’s proposed increased spending on programs to address homelessness, Comptroller Stringer says spending money more efficiently is needed.

During the comptroller’s preliminary budget analysis presentation, Stringer pointed out that the city is committing $1.7 billion on homeless services across three agencies - a 46 percent increase over two years - and said more coordination and better management must happen for the city to get the optimal return on the investment.

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Committee on Government Operations, told Gotham Gazette that during the upcoming budget hearings, “the first item that folks can expect to see is following up on waste in government contracting. In my first year, I identified $4 billion in potential contract overruns.” Kallos added he looks forward to “getting to the bottom of that waste.”

Given the likelihood of an economic downturn, Kallos said he is “concerned about the city’s capital reserves,” and will be advocating to increase the amount of money put aside in the Capital Stabilization Reserve Fund, which received $500 million last year.

Regarding his goals as committee chair (the government operations preliminary budget hearing is March 14), Kallos said he’ll be looking at “outsourcing and provisionals,” and estimated there are roughly 21,000 provisional employees in the city - civil service positions that are filled non-competitively.

“We need to crack down on provisionals. That falls under the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which I oversee,” Kallos said. Thousands of provisional employees were hired during the Bloomberg years, creating something of a city workforce crisis under de Blasio, with questions about which managerial-level city workers have to take civil service exams and make their employment fit requirements.

“I’m focusing on removing outsourcing where possible,” Kallos added, referring to the hiring of outside contractors and consultants by the city to do work that could be done by government employees.

With four election dates scheduled this year, Kallos will also “focus on making sure the Board of Election has all the funding they need…this is going to be the most expensive year for the Board of Elections.” Millions could be saved by consolidating election dates to hold the state primary on the same day as the congressional primary, which Kallos has called for in a resolution.

For Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, top priorities include securing more support “in terms of financing and resources” for the city’s district attorneys, evaluating the needs and effectiveness of the special narcotics prosecutor in terms of handling K2 (synthetic marijuana) and opioid abuse issues in the city, increasing support for the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, and investing more in anti-gun violence efforts.

“I’m very supportive of anti-gun violence programs,” Gibson said, “I’m grateful the mayor has included in his budget an expansion of ShotSpotter, it’s extremely helpful to detect gunshots in our communities.” Gibson, whose committee’s preliminary budget hearing is March 8, will be looking to expand upon the “incredible investment we’ve already made of about $11-12 million” for initiatives to combat gun violence. Continuing and expanding on trauma services and victim services for those impacted by gun violence is also of importance to Gibson, as is redoubling investments the Council has made in those summer youth employment programs.

The number of reported rapes taking place in New York City has increased in recent years, and advocates and counselors who help victims of sexual assault are eager to see if Gibson and the Council will stick to its word about providing more resources to rape crisis centers.

Gibson told Gotham Gazette she thinks “increasing access for us as a Council to rape crisis centers and counseling and mental health professionals” is a necessary response to the increased number of rapes and sexual assaults. “I know the advocates have talked to us about rape crisis centers and how we need to beef up the borough-wide services because in some boroughs it’s not equal in terms of access, and that’s important for us as well.”

One area of concern for Gibson and others is the state’s proposed Medicaid and CUNY cuts. “The state support from Albany is going to probably be the thing that we’ll talk about with Dean Fuleihan,” Gibson said, referring to de Blasio’s budget chief, “the cuts are not acceptable, and we need to make sure that we do get support from Albany.”

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Samar Khurshid contributed reporting.

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City Council to Begin Public Examination of Mayor's Budget Sun, 28 Feb 2016 21:10:34 +0000
As Council Begins Oversight, McCray Reports Progress in Mental Health Roadmap Implementation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6134:as-council-begins-oversight-mccray-reports-progress-in-mental-health-roadmap-implementation http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6134:as-council-begins-oversight-mccray-reports-progress-in-mental-health-roadmap-implementation chirlane mccray richard buery mental health

Chirlane McCray & Richard Buery testify (photo: William Alatriste)

 


 

At a Jan. 28 oversight hearing held by the Committee on Mental Health, First Lady Chirlane McCray testified before the City Council for the first time, updating the Council on the city’s progress implementing its new “mental health roadmap.”

ThriveNYC, as the roadmap is called, is spearheaded by McCray and entails a comprehensive effort involving over 20 city agencies, 54 initiatives, and $850 million allocated over the next four years to improve access to quality mental health care.

McCray, joined by Deputy Mayor Richard Buery and Dr. Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, emphasized the ThriveNYC focus on creating more points of entry into the mental health care system for New Yorkers, the importance of early intervention, and eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness. Buery has been named by Mayor Bill de Blasio and McCray as the City Hall point person for the implementation of ThriveNYC.

During the hearing, Council members praised McCray, who is the Chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, for her role in making mental health a priority for the city, and were generally impressed by the progress that has been made so far.

“The roadmap was only released at the end of November, and the fact that the ball is rolling on some of them bodes well for how this is going to go,” Council Member Andrew Cohen, chair of the Committee on Mental Health, told Gotham Gazette in a post-hearing interview. Cohen added that he was “very pleased” with the hearing and thought it went “very, very well.”

Cohen conceded that the McCray, Buery, and Belkin were not “100 percent certain” about what benchmarks or metrics would be best to measure the success of each of ThriveNYC’s initiatives, as one metric may be appropriate for one initiative, but different standards may be needed for another initiative.

“But, I think as they start rolling them out and as they start providing these services, we’re going to be very interested in seeing that there’s some way to quantify that the programs are successful, that the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth,” Cohen added.

Though Council Member Joe Borelli, who represents the South Shore of Staten Island, told Gotham Gazette he was “happy to hear that the First Lady has made [mental health] a priority and that it’s actually resulted in the city administration looking at mental health as a priority,” Borelli did take issue with ThriveNYC’s lack of resources and plans to address the opioid epidemic on Staten Island.

“Deputy Mayor, in your testimony you made a point to highlight a number of different ethnic and community groups that have specific needs, and what is potentially going to be done to address it...the number one county in the entire state [for heroin and opioid addiction] is Richmond County,” Borelli said during the hearing.

And in Richmond County, the problem is primarily concentrated on the South Shore of Staten Island, Borelli continued, “and yet, I look on the map and I see only three blobs that have any substance abuse counseling in this area - one of which is about to be closed.”

Ideally, Borelli said in an interview after the hearing, he’d like to see more SAPIS (Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Specialist) counselors in Staten Island schools. Tottenville High School, for example, has “almost 4,000 students, and it only has one counselor. There’s a real need,” said Borelli.

Some community-based organizations also expressed frustration during the hearing. Alan Ross, executive director of Samaritans of NYC, a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, took issue with the fact that several ThriveNYC initiatives are being touted as “new,” yet organizations that already carried out such work in New York City had seen their funding cut and programs terminated.

“There are apparent contradictions in the plan that warrant further examination,” Ross said. “You’ve got these goals, but four years ago they terminated several programs and they said LifeNet was going to pick up all the service and then last year LifeNet couldn’t handle the weight,” Ross continued, looking to the de Blasio administration to address changes made under its predecessor.

“We need to acknowledge the tremendous efforts currently undertaken every day by community agencies,” added John Kastan, chief program officer of Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services. “For ThriveNYC to work, it must...build on the existing infrastructure of services, rather than create a parallel system.”

Cohen expressed agreement on that point, saying in an interview after the hearing, “ultimately the strength of that community is going to drive how successful the roadmap is going to be.”

“The RFPs have to meet the service-provider network that we have,” Cohen added,” I think these service providers need to be a part of developing the specifics of these RFPs so we get a lot of responses and so there’s a successful, not-for-profit program implementing these measures.”

City funding of $62 million has been allocated to ThriveNYC in the fiscal year 2017 preliminary budget unveiled by Mayor de Blasio on Jan. 21. According to McCray and Buery, some of the recent progress that has been made in implementing ThriveNYC and upcoming benchmarks for this year include:

  • NYC Health + Hospitals and Maimonides Hospital have committed to reach universal screening for maternal depression in women both during pregnancy and after giving birth within two years. -NYC Health + Hospitals will expand and standardize their current screening process for maternal depression in three facilities beginning this February, and Maimonides will begin training for maternal depression screening in February as well.
  • Hiring has begun for a network of 100 school mental health consultants, who will provide advice and referrals to schools currently without onsite mental health services. The first cohort of about 40 consultants is expected to be on staff in DOE support centers beginning in April.
  • Since the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene first began mental health first aid training a few years ago, 6,000 New Yorkers have been trained in mental health first aid. According to Buery, the city is on track to have 10,000 trained in mental health first aid by the end of ThriveNYC’s first year, with a total of 50,000 by the second year. Training spots are currently open three times a week to the general public. About 30 mental health first aid instructors have been trained since ThriveNYC launched, and 500 more are expected to be trained in the next five years. Mental health first aid classes in Spanish will begin to be offered in mid-to-late February, and classes in Mandarin will be offered later this year.
  • The RFP for NYC Support, an initiative which will give New Yorkers 24/7 access crisis counseling and schedule appointments with mental health providers via phone, text, or website, was released in January, and a contract will be in place by spring in order for service to begin later this year.

On February 23, a Mental Health Council comprised of the leaders of more than 20 city agencies will meet for the first time, in an effort to ensure effective planning and coordination across all agencies.

In March, the city will announce the community-based organizations that will participate in the Connection to Care program, a public-private partnership that aims to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health services by integrating mental wellness supports into existing social services agencies.

By this summer, the city, in partnership with schools and social workers, will have its first cohort of 130 new clinicians in the mental health workforce seeing patients. Starting in fiscal year 2017 (which begins July 1), the city will contract a community-based organization to train 200 peer support specialists per year.

To McCray, the mental health roadmap may just be the “tip of the iceberg...ThriveNYC is not intended to be a cure all - it wasn’t intended to fix the problem, it’s intended as a first step, as a conversation starter, and it’s intended to deal with those things that are in front of us right now that we can actually treat and address.”

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

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As Council Begins Oversight, McCray Reports Progress in Mental Health Roadmap Implementation Tue, 02 Feb 2016 02:52:43 +0000