North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center Releases Project Access

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center Releases Project Access

Family members share stories about difficulty accessing mental health and addictions care as results of year-long study are detailed at press conference

Roslyn Heights, NY, December 11, 2017 If you’ve tried to get help for a family member or loved one who was struggling with mental health or chemical dependency issues and had trouble finding a provider who takes your insurance, you are not alone.

Today, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center (also known as the Guidance Center) released the results of Project Access, a year-long study in which approximately 650 Long Islanders were surveyed about their experiences and frustrations in trying to obtain help. The results were announced at a press conference at the Guidance Center’s Roslyn Heights headquarters on Monday, December 11.

“This report verifies what we have long known: Insurance companies and the government are not living up to their responsibility to provide people with quality, affordable and timely mental health and addictions care,” said Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of the Guidance Center. “Even though they are legally bound to have adequate networks of care, they fall far short of that mandate.”

A few key findings:

  • Almost half of the participants said that it was more difficult finding help for mental health or substance abuse problems than finding help for physical illnesses, especially when they were in crisis.
  • Nearly 40% said that their insurance company did not have an adequate number of providers.
  • Two thirds told us that their insurance company was not helpful to them in finding a suitable provider for themselves or a loved one. 
  • Almost 40% of participants reported that stigma and affordability were impediments to seeking care.
  • And, almost 25% of participants reported that they felt their attempts at accessing care were futile.

The problem of access is often complicated by a family’s reluctance to seek help for a mental health or drug problem, as opposed to physical illnesses like cancer or diabetes. Despite progress, stigma still looms large.

Kerry Eller spoke of the difficulty in finding treatment for her family member who has mental health and chemical addictions issues. “When my sister’s condition began to worsen, it put our entire family into crisis,” said Eller. “We knew she needed professional help to get her through this incredibly difficult time. It was extremely challenging to access appropriate treatment for my sister. The insurance company was not helpful with connecting us to in-network providers; they would give us referrals but when we would call, we would often find out that they no longer participated with our plan. It was exhausting and heart breaking to have to endure one failed call after another.”

Janet Susin, the President of Queens/Nassau NAMI, spoke of the trouble she faced getting her son care for schizophrenia. “At our first visit to the ER, their first question wasn’t ‘How is he doing’ but rather ‘Do you have insurance that covers mental health care?’ The reality is that there are not enough psychiatrists, particularly child psychiatrists, and very few are willing to take insurance.  We need to do something to rectify that situation.”

State Senator Todd Kaminsky, who also spoke at the press conference, said, “The Project Access report is a damning indictment of where we are with mental health and addictions care in our state today… We’re not in the 19th or even 20th century. We have to do better!”

State Senator Elaine Phillips told the audience, “With Project Access, we now have the data when we write to our government and state agencies. We need to demand change so people get the support they deserve!”

For her part, Rebecca Sanin, President/CEO of the ‎Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, spoke of the great disparity in obtaining mental health care as opposed to care for physical illnesses. “Imagine if cancer patients faced delays and inadequate coverage; we would be up in arms as a region,” she said. “Project Access shows that two-thirds of respondents said insurance companies were not helpful and that it required multiple calls and contacts to access care. This is unconscionable. When a person is in crisis, the window to engage in treatment is small, and it may never open again if they are turned away.”

“We are calling on the New York State Department of Financial Services to launch a thorough investigation of this issue,” said Malekoff. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to advocate for change. Access delayed is access denied. People’s lives are at stake.”

The study is supported by the Long Island Unitarian Universalist Fund of the Long Island Community Foundation.