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Mental health advocates rally in Albany

men and women outdoors in orange baseball caps and signs supporting the mentally ill
Jenna Flanagan
Innovation Trail

Community mental health advocates descended on Albany Tuesday. They were there to voice their approval for more than 200-million dollars earmarked in the governor’s budget proposal for new community services and supports for New Yorkers with psychiatric conditions.

The group rallied on the east steps of the state capital chanting, 'Reinvest in my recovery' and 'housing employment and peer support.'

The stakeholders praised Governor Cuomo’s proposal to downsize state psychiatric facilities and redirect those funds to local community mental health systems.

Harvey Rosenthal, Executive Director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services says community integration and engagement goes a lot further towards patient recovery than hospital services.

“We’re doing a better job to help people live in the community, we don’t need the money in the institutions, we want it in the community. A big source of where that money has to go is to increasing housing, employment and peer support.”

Steve Coe is CEO of Community Access in New York City. His organization provides housing, job skills, employment placement and support to break the cycle of homelessness, institutionalization and incarceration of people living with mental illness.

“If somebody moves into housing, their physical health improves and their mental health improves. So the public all they hear about is that people are dangerous and that’s just not true.”

Neil O’Connor, a recent graduate of Community Access program offered at the Howie T. Harp Peer Advocacy and Training Center in Harlem, said the course helped him turn his life around when he was struggling with depression.

He wants people to know those diagnosed with mental illness are dealing with more than a medical condition.

“They’re like, ‘hey the guy sounds like he’s alright, he’s labeled, he’s got a mental illness but he’s still got his wits about him. He’ll have his bad days he’ll have his good days, but in the end he’ll have more good days than bad days.”

Governor Cuomo’s budget plan for mental health services redirects 25-million in state psychiatric hospital resources, resulting in a reduction in more than 400 inpatient beds. 30 million dollars of redirected Medicaid funding would be channeled into peer and family support, community rehabilitation and employment initiatives.

The Civil Service Employees Association has called the Cuomo administration’s plans ‘flawed’, and that the plans underestimate the demand for ongoing longer-term care for people with mental illness who can’t be supported in the community.

In Albany, I’m Jenna Flanagan for the Innovation Trail.

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