Long Island Business News: Community mental health woes

Long Island Business News: Community mental health woes

By Andrew Malekoff

When Nassau residents decided that speed cameras in school zones were unfair, their outrage got the attention of local politicians. The cameras were gone in record time. And when taxpayers told their representatives to keep gambling off the block, the pols backed down, knowing they were waging a losing bet.

So why are our state leaders closing their ears to the pleas of children and families in desperate need of mental health services?

Across Long Island, the agencies that care for the most vulnerable are dropping like flies, victims of a mentality that stigmatizes psychiatric illness and a short-sighted healthcare system more interested in managing costs than managing care. This year alone, FEGS, a $250 million agency, closed after 80 years. Catholic Charities will close its outpatient mental health clinic in Freeport in May. Previous L.I. victims were South Shore Child Guidance, the Family and Children’s Association, Peninsula Counseling Center and Pederson-Krag Center.

The pattern is clear: For decades, big government has cut funding to mental health services across the nation, and the cuts just keep on coming.

Failed state and federal leadership has enabled insurance companies to make it nearly impossible for community-based mental health clinics to survive, unless they reduce the time spent with clients to squeeze in more billable hours; refuse to handle crisis situations that require greater resources; restrict access, taking only patients who have Medicaid, which pays a higher rate than commercial insurers; and/or fire salaried employees and hire per diem staff who have little stake in the agency’s values.

When the “community” is taken out of community-based mental health care, it’s not just semantics. Time-honored practices fall by the wayside. Cultures fall apart. Quality of care crumbles.

Government powerbrokers continue to slash funding for lifesaving programs. Why? Follow the money. Insurance company lobbyists pay them big bucks to turn their backs on those in need.

But politicians also listen when constituents make noise. Isn’t it time we get loud about something as critical as the health and well-being of our children?

Andrew Malekoff is executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, a nonprofit children’s mental health center in Roslyn Heights, NY.