By William T. Gettman, Jr.
For The Daily Gazette
Even in the best of times, our community desperately needs more mental health services.
Now, with emerging COVID variants and evolving data on vaccine effectiveness, we face it feels as though we are on the brink of disaster regarding the delivery of mental health services across New York state.
The collective mental health crisis brought on by COVID-19 has us in the position where the demand for services far outreaches the workforce available.
But this is not just a workforce issue.
This is about the foundational health and safety of our children, it’s about our families, it’s about our communities and access to care and treatment.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has the power to help. Here’s how:
Currently, mental health service providers are unable to hire enough licensed mental health practitioners to meet the overwhelming need in New York state.
Seemingly every counselor and therapist has a full caseload and a long waiting list, creating a barrier to life-changing treatment.
Making the decision to seek mental help health is a monumental step for an individual; to do so and then not be able to access that help can have devastating results.
There is a crisis of availability of licensed mental health professionals accepting Medicaid throughout the state.
In many regions of New York, there are no mental health providers accepting Medicaid patients.
This is particularly impactful for the tens of thousands of New York’s children for whom untreated mental health challenges can have life-long impact.
Long waits for care or the lack of services at all for children will have negative impacts on our state for generations to come.
To help address the workforce crisis, provider organizations have strongly advocated for the addition of the licensed mental health counselors and licensed family therapists to the state’s Medicaid Provider List.
The addition of these providers would not increase Medicaid spending, nor add services to the Medicaid program.
It simply increases the number of licensed professionals who can provide behavioral health and substance use disorder services to the Medicaid population under their scopes of practice.
The need for mental health care by New York’s children continues to grow.
Reports say that:
• 54.5% of children with a mental/behavioral health condition that needed treatment did not receive treatment in the past year;
• 55.1% of children with major depression did not receive any mental health services;
• Most chronic mental health conditions emerge by age 14;
• Many of all lifetime cases of anxiety disorders begin by age 8;
• 40.8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported seriously considering suicide in 2017; and
• Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 5-14 and the second leading cause of death for adolescents ages 15-19.
The state Legislature realized the severity of this situation, passing legislation in the most recent session (S.6575/A.6323) to address this need and allow care and services provided by mental health practitioners licensed under the state Education Law to be eligible for coverage under the Medicaid program.
The bill authorizes licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) to work in additional settings beyond state operated programs where these professionals are already able to provide Medicaid covered therapy.
This legislation is the best chance we have to provide these services to those who need them most.
We urge Gov. Hochul to sign the enacted legislation and promote access to care for our most vulnerable children.
William T. Gettman, Jr., is chief executive officer of Northern Rivers Family of Services in Albany.