BUFFALO, N.Y. — From substance abuse disorders to mental health issues, advocates across New York gathered Tuesday, calling on the state to reverse a decades-old trend of inadequate funding.
"Our collective voices matter," said Amy Dorin, Coalition for Behavioral Health president.
The rally called on Gov. Hochul and state lawmakers to invest in mental health and substance use disorder systems of care.
The group is calling for a 5.4% cost-of-living adjustment and a $500 million budget line for workforce, services and support.
"What I saw at the rally is consistent with what we're seeing in the Western New York area," said Elizabeth McPartland, Child and Family Services president and CEO.
Leaders with Child and Family Services in Buffalo, who provide a wide range of mental health services, say recruiting and retaining a workforce is a challenge.
They say it puts people at greater risk as the demand for services continue to grow.
"The mental health needs that are happening to us. To our family members. To our neighbors. Our kids and their peers … And what's happening is all these people that we care about are not able to access these much needed services,” said McPartland.
"My staff are frontline workers who are dealing with the overdose crisis and are dealing with the mental health crisis," said Steven Cobb, Mental Health Association director.
Mental Health Association leaders in Chautauqua County expressed the same frustrations and difficulties when it comes to helping those in need of support.
"We're dealing with an overdose crisis that requires just a level of care and approach to bring this under control, that we sometimes have difficulties providing the staff to respond to these overdoses," said Cobb.
"Think about the lives we could have saved, and think about the improvements we could have made," said Ed Cichon, Cazenovia Recovery marketing and communications director.
Leaders with Cazanovia Recovery in Buffalo say there are 150 positions, with a 20% vacancy rate, or 30 open spots.
They say the work is challenging and traumatizing, now and before the pandemic, as death rates continue to rise.
"The people that we lost would still be able to be with their family members this year during the holiday season,” said Cichon. “Think about all the empty spots at the dinner tables happening all across New York state that could have been prevented this year.”
Agency leaders say they remain hopeful state lawmakers will support them when the new legislative session begins next month.
"That this isn't just a one-time infusion of financial support that's needed, but a commitment," said McPartland.
"It's really essential that there is this long-term commitment to our staff who support people with a substance use disorder or on the mental health side," said Cobb.
Both are inviting the community to reach out to lawmakers directly.
Local agency leaders are encouraging people to enter the field and help others.
They can also complete the form to the governor and ask her to include 5.4% COLA and $500 million in the budget for the behavioral health sector."