In his executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed closing 200 community mental health service beds, and then sweeping the estimated $22 million in savings into the general fund.
Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, chair of the Mental Health Committee, told Capital Tonight that she feels both proposals are dead in the water.
“It’s just really bad decision-making. I don’t know why they never call people that are actually working in the field,” she said.
“I think it’s out of the question. We’ll never see that money again. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s time to buck up, provide the health care that people need, upstate New York and downstate New York, it’s very important. I’m just a little tired of it,” she told Capital Tonight.
At issue is the location of some of the children’s psychiatric beds in the state. Gunther, who represents Sullivan and Orange County, says that the closest psychiatric center to her district is in Rockland County, home to the Rockland Psychiatric Center, which specializes in children’s psychiatry.
“We send our kids that are in crisis down to Rockland County,” she explained. “Closing those beds would be very, very critical for all of us in Sullivan County because where would we send our children? Down to the Bronx,” she asked rhetorically. “You have to have family involved and a lot of folks can’t get to the Bronx. It’s hard enough to get to Rockland Psych Center. It’s just ridiculous at this point. You’re closing beds for people that are in crisis. I don’t understand what you’re thinking.”
When it was observed she sounded frustrated, Gunther nodded in agreement. “I am frustrated. Why do I have to fight and raise my voice? Why do I have to beg for things that really should be a right of people that are living in New York? We’re not a third world country.”
Hinting that her priorities are not high on the governor’s list, Gunther referenced the number of people in her Assembly district.
“I’m elected by the same number of people as…every other assemblyperson. I have a lot of experience in health care, and I know how important it is. We deserve access to health care, whether it’s mental health or health in general.”
The state budget is due on April 1. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in New York of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19.