PEF cautiously optimistic about new mental health plan

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The New York State Public Employees Federation is cautiously optimistic that a recent announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo "seems to signal a more logical and thoughtful way to transform mental health services in New York state."

Last July, the governor proposed to close nine state-run psychiatric hospitals, a plan strenuously opposed by PEF, which said the closures would lower the quality of services. The state, PEF leaders said, should be strengthening, rather than weakening, the services provided to this vulnerable population.

In late December, Cuomo announced changes in the state's Office of Mental Health Regional Centers of Excellence plan involving St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Binghamton Health Center and Elmira Psychiatric Center, all of which were slated to be closed under the original plan. The revised plan calls for closing one adult ward at each of the three facilities. The remaining adult wards will remain open while appropriate community resources are developed. In addition, the children's units at the three facilities will remain open.

Consistent with the union's Save Our Services advocacy, the governor now says he agrees that patients should not have to travel far to receive the treatment they need and that it should not be a hardship for families to be involved in their loved ones' treatment.

"While we are pleased that Gov. Cuomo's announcement yesterday making changes to the state Regional Centers of Excellence plan seems to signal a more logical and thoughtful way to transform mental health services in New York state, we are disheartened that the governor continues to roll out public policy decisions in the media," PEF President Susan Kent said.

Kent, an AFT vice president, went on to say that the original RCE plan "was ill-thought-out and has caused the people who receive mental health services and the people who deliver them great anxiety and upset, as there was no prior notification to the workers and the unions that represent them of either the initial announcement or yesterday's announcement. The governor continues to exhibit callous disregard for his workforce."

PEF will "continue to push Gov. Cuomo to allow ample time for unions, the public and elected officials to have an opportunity to weigh in on public policy decisions of this magnitude," Kent said.

"We don't know what effect yesterday's announcement will have on the rest of the RCE plan, but all the points the governor made about needed services in the Southern Tier and the North Country hold true for the all the communities that have facilities slated to be closed."

On Jan. 29, PEF will be joined by other New York state unions at a Save Our Services rally in Albany to support its campaign to preserve needed services provided in our communities by state workers from the state's Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, and Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. [Roger Glass, PEF statement]

January 8, 2014