Attorney General holds public hearing into mental health crisis

State Attorney General Letitia James and her office on Wednesday heard calls from a litany of health care advocates calling for greater action to address serious mental illness across the state.

“There is no doubt that New York is in the midst of a mental health crisis that has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Attorney General James said before the hearing. “For decades, New York has seen a decline in acute inpatient psychiatric beds, which are essential to providing consistent and thorough mental health care in our communities.

During the hearing, James heard from health care providers and defends how mental health services have failed New Yorkers in the throes of mental health crises. Many speakers agreed that this was due to the lack of available beds in hospitals, the stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of insured patients.

Across New York State, accessibility to hospital psychiatric care has been severely limited due to the pandemic, which has forced hospitals to eliminate, convert, or close approximately 400 beds that were originally for psychiatric purposes. in order to accommodate patients suffering from COVID.

“I think there may be a perception that people who experience homelessness may be smelly or they may be destructive,” said Alice Morissey, a medical professional during testimony. “I think there are challenges given that, I also think sometimes the fact that someone doesn’t have an address can be a barrier to certain types of care.”

This year, it is estimated that there are fewer than 5,000 short-term inpatient adult psychiatric hospital beds in New York State. According to a report by ProPublica, New York has only 274 child and adolescent psychiatric beds.

This shortage of hospital beds has contributed to homelessness, incarceration and more frequent hospital visits, further limiting the number of beds. When beds became limited due to the pandemic, patients were actually sent to out-of-town hospitals

“An example would be Brunswick Hospital on Long Island,” Dr. Tony Carino said. “There were often [where] we had to call frequently, sometimes calling the director of psychiatry to call back the inpatient treatment team, and one of the challenges was that they just weren’t as familiar with the services of New York. [They had] less awareness of assisted outpatient treatment than part of the discharge planning that is really essential and it was such a shame that New York City, with so many resources, sent patients.

Other advocates have criticized the frequency with which patients with serious mental illnesses are treated like criminals and are encountered by police forces and are not people with a medical condition.

“New York desperately needs more psychiatrists who are accessible to low-income people,” said Nicole McVinua, director of policy at Urban Pathways. “The typical response to a mental health crisis call is always [to call] 9-11, and the police are dispatched. And while efforts have been and continue to be underway to remove the police from responding to mental health crises, access to alternatives is still not as widespread as it should be and none are available. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Using the information and testimony gathered during the hearing, Attorney General James hopes to seek methods and legislative solutions to alleviate and hopefully eliminate this health care crisis currently affecting many communities in New York.

“New York is in the midst – my friends – as we all know of a mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” James said, opening the June 22 hearing. “Community care has been significantly underfunded and robust, outpatient care is inaccessible. Data shows that since 2014, the number of seriously mentally ill people in homeless shelters, jails, jails and on our streets has increased.

James also stated his intention to address this crisis and get answers to ensure that people struggling with mental illness receive adequate and accessible care.

“Today we hope to get some answers,” James said. “What happened to the beds?” How can we recover them? Where is the action to eradicate barriers to accessing these services? How do we address capacity issues? Today we will try to get answers to these and many other questions that are fueling this care crisis. »

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