ALBANY, N.Y. (WETM) – Advocates, lawmakers and New Yorkers are warning of what they call an “impending crisis” that could reduce access to mental health and substance use disorder services across the state.

The concern stems from a bill currently awaiting a full house vote in the New York State Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Samra Brouk, Chair of the Senate Mental Health Committee and Assembly Member Harry Bronson, would prevent community-based agencies from having to comply with a law that governs who can provide services. That includes clinical treatment services to New Yorkers seeking assistance from the public mental hygiene system.

Advocates claim there’s a workforce crisis because staff vacancies are at an all-time high due to the pandemic, leaving organizations without the human resources needed to meet current demand for care. 

“One of the greatest challenges we face in this mission is capacity, a problem that has been worsened by the surge of demand due to COVID-19,” Sen. Brouk said. “Our community-based service providers have been providing life-saving treatment to our friends, family and neighbors for almost two decades, and it is incumbent upon us to ensure this bill passes in the coming days so they may continue to serve our communities at a time when we need them most.” ‘

According to Assembly member Harry Bronson,  65 percent of New York counties are designated as mental health shortage areas. Overall, more than three million people in the state live in designated federal or state mental health shortage areas. 

Advocates state that the law, first passed in 2002, never contemplated the unique workforce challenges that have always faced the public mental hygiene system where salaries are “extremely low” and the work is often emotionally draining.

 “A crisis is looming.  A mental health crisis which is getting even worse due to COVID-19 where the demand for services far outreaches the workforce available.  But this is not just a workforce issue.  This crisis is about our children, it’s about our families, it’s about our communities,” Bronson said.

The following organizations have signed on in support of passage of S.6431 before the end of the regularly scheduled 2021 legislative session:

NYS Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, Lauri Cole, Executive Director

NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health, Andrea Smyth, Executive Director

The Coalition for Behavioral Health, Amy Dorin, CEO & President

New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Use Providers, John Coppola, Executive Director

Northern Rivers Family of Services, William Gettman, CEO

Association of Addiction Recovery Care Homes of NYS, Roger Glasgow, Chair

Central New York Alcoholism and Drug Association, James Scordo, Chair

Coalition for Community Services, Seep Varma, Chair

Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment Providers and Advocates, Allegra Schorr, President

Consortium of Alcohol & Substance Abuse Services, Patrick Seche and Jennifer Faringer, Chairs

Council on Addictions of NYS, Angela Sullivan, Chair

Nassau Alliance for Addiction Services, Patricia Hincken, Chair

North Country Behavioral Health Network, Barry E. Brogan, Executive Director

Northern Tier Providers Coalition, Larry Calkins and Bill Bowman, Co-Chairs

Quality Consortium of Suffolk County, Kym Laube, Chair

Queens Consortium on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Beth Covelli, Chair

Recovery Net, Jennifer Carlson, Chair

Therapeutic Communities Association of New York, Norwig Debye-Saxinger, Exec. Director

Westchester/Putnam Coalition of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Programs, Ellen Morehouse, Chair

Western NY Chemical Dependency Consortium, Matthew Smith, Chair