Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing the broadest and most concerted facility downsizing effort by any New York governor in recent history, as noted here last summer. In addition to prison closures and consolidations, the governor has proposed shutting down nine psychiatric centers for the acutely mentally ill, consolidating a new institutional network of “Regional Centers of Excellence,” and shifting more of the Office of Mental Health (OMH) budget to”community-based” services.
Unsurprisingly, the psychiatric center closures are being contested by the union representing state employees who work at the centers. But they’re not alone. D.J. Jaffe–a knowledgeable mental health advocate not linked to any of Albany’s deeper-pocketed special interest groups–says the governor’s plan could cost more in the long run by “forc[ing] hundreds of seriously mentally ill patients into jails, shelters, prisons, and morgues.”
In City Journal online, Jaffe writes:
Unlike community-based programs, psychiatric hospitals cater to those who need inpatient services, cannot survive safely in the community, or who refuse treatment. New York currently has about 4,000 state psychiatric hospital beds—roughly 27 per 100,000 New Yorkers, down from 600 per 100,000 in 1955. To meet the generally accepted minimum standard of 50 beds for every 100,000 people in a state, New York needs at least 3,000 more psychiatric beds. As a result of the shortage, at least 9,000 mentally ill New Yorkers are currently incarcerated and thousands are homeless. Closing hospitals and losing even more beds will only make the problem worse.
Jaffe is encouraged that Cuomo has nominated Ann Marie Sullivan. a medical doctor who has treated institutionalized psychiatric patients, to be state mental health commissioner. However, he also describes the governor’s Center for Excellence plan as “containing lots of platitudes but few details,” adding:
What’s clear is that many previously hospitalized patients will be declared “recovered” and left to fend for themselves. Others will be transferred to distant facilities, making it hard for their families to visit them. Anyone who gets sick after the hospitals close will simply be locked out.
Law enforcement types apparently agree. In an op-ed article last fall, Michael Biasotti, immediate past president of the state Association of Police Chiefs, pointed to this simple calculus: “When psychiatric beds go down, incarceration goes up.”