A bleak picture of New York state’s mental health care landscape was painted during a public hearing held by Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday, as children and adults alike thrashed against the psychological toll of the pandemic while facing barriers to accessing treatment.
Dozens of medical professionals, social service workers and others who shared testimony during Wednesday’s hearing decried a dismal lack of resources throughout the state for those with serious mental illnesses, from children with suicidal ideations to homeless people in need of care.
“What happened to the beds and how can we get them back?” James said in her opening remarks, referencing a drastic reduction in psychiatric beds, particularly for children.
The attorney general highlighted an investigation by ProPublica and THE CITY that shed light on the failings of a Cuomo-era promise to better the state’s mental health landscape for kids, through a 2014 initiative that slashed the number of beds in the hopes of generating savings for community-based and outpatient programs that would be more preventative in nature.
Critics, however, pointed to scores of children that have been unable to get treatment as a result, and the lack of evidence that the approach worked.
“These children are waiting months and months for treatment,” James said. “I personally have gotten calls from frantic family members of children in my neighborhood who were self-harming. They weren't able to secure a bed and safe space for them.”
New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan testified on the Adams administration’s efforts on mental health issues, which has been criticized by advocates who warn a public safety-heavy approach particularly among homeless New Yorkers will fail to tackle underlying issues.
The state Department of Health’s written testimony was read aloud by James, who noted at the beginning of the hearing the agency had been invited to testify.