NYC Advocates Joined NYAPRS for Legislative Day in Albany
By Carla Rabinowitz, Advocacy Coordinator and Briana Gilmore, Director of Planning and Recovery Practice, Community Access
Requesting Housing and Criminal Justice System Reform
On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, hundreds of community members from across New York City travelled to Albany to advocate on behalf of the mental health community. The advocates joined NYAPRS, the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, as it convened its 19th Annual Legislative Day.
A Legislative day is when a group of people advocating for a cause gather at the Capital and educate elected officials.
NYAPRS focuses on statewide advocacy for the promotion of rights and recovery for people who have been a part of the mental health system, as well as those who have also had experiences with substance abuse, homelessness, and the criminal justice system. NYAPRS members meet with New York State Senators and Assembly Members on Legislative Day to discuss needed reforms.
The trip from NYC to Albany is fun itself, as hundreds of people travel by bus together, sharing stories and excitement about the day.
Then once in Albany, attendees meet in a very large auditorium called The Egg. NYAPRS leaders introduce key issues, celebrate progressive legislators working toward mental health reform, and remember past legislative victories. After coming together over the issues we share as a community and we break into small groups to meet with legislators.
This year, the biggest priorities for NYAPRS were some of the social issues that intersect the lives of people with mental health needs, specifically housing availability and criminal justice system reform.
NYAPRS advocates urged Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to sign a new NY/NY IV agreement to ensure a multi-year commitment between city and state for the supportive housing needs of our community. In addition, we advocated for a $92.9 million statewide housing readjustment rate for housing providers to ensure they can sustain quality service operation and safe, updated facilities.
Mental health advocates joined NYAPRS in advocating for our brothers and sisters in jail and prison and for their needs when they are released. Reforming jails and prisons is imperative to the well-being of our community members. This year NYAPRS focused on Presumptive Medicaid, which would guarantee a person leaving jail or prison Medicaid eligibility for the first 90 days. Currently, a person leaving jail or prison has had their Medicaid eligibility suspended and can’t immediately access health care, including medications.
Importantly, NYAPRS prioritizes diversion from jail or prison, particularly in the case of mental health crisis that contribute to incarceration of our community members. We advocated for the expansion of Crisis Intervention Team training, which is a comprehensive method to teach police officers how to respond to people in distress. The 40-hour training equips officers with skills to identify and de-escalate the effects of a mental health crisis. NYC is currently committed to training 5,500 officers, but the need is for 10,000 trained officers; we advocated for an increase in trained officers to meet the city’s needs.
We also advocated for additional funding for supportive community services. NYAPRS initiated a $90 million request to sustain community infrastructure and expand technological resources. Behavioral health providers are not fully equipped to navigate some of the financial reforms implemented by the Department of Health to make the Medicaid system more efficient. This money would support providers in preparing to better support participants.
NYAPRS advocates also sought $50 million reinvestment from savings gained by the shift to Medicaid Managed Care, and $5.5 million from the closing of hospitals. We advocated for the reinvestment of these funds into community settings, to continue to prevent the need for hospitalization and prioritize community integration.
One excellent example of community reinvestment funding in the 1990s was the Community Access Howie T Harp training program. This peer run program trains mental health service recipients to work as peer specialists or in the human service field. The program has promoted over 1,000 NYC community members in pursuing workforce goals and continues to provide options for people with mental health system experiences.
Many people have the perception that individual advocacy with elected officials does not matter, but that’s not true. Ten years ago, Community Access helped to arrange speakers for advocacy to end solitary confinement in prisons for people with mental health treatment needs. We thought we would wow elected officials with experts, including a speaker from the United Nations, Amnesty International, and top lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union. We also brought one family member of a person with mental illness living in solitary.
After the public hearing where these speakers delivered testimony, we met separately with the legislator chairing the committee. They asked by name for the family member who testified at the hearing. The voice of a family advocate was the only voice they remembered from a four-hour hearing. Personal testimony matters, and always leaves an impact on elected leaders.
The most important thing to remember when you speak to an elected official is speak from the heart and convey how your personal story relates to what issue you are seeking to change. Honesty and commitment often translate to influence with legislative leaders.
Consider joining us in monthly meetings to discuss news about mental health issues from across the state and country with the NYAPRS NYC chapter.
To get involved with NYAPRS, call Carla Rabinowitz at 212-780-1400 x7726, or firstname.lastname@example.org