Local mental health care advocates react to governor’s $1B plan

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 5:28 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - During Tuesday’s State of the State address, Governor Kathy Hochul announced plans to invest $1 billion in mental health care.

She says the needs of people living with mental illness have long been ignored and it’s time to make services ranging from doctor’s appointments to psychiatric beds more accessible.

“Fixing New York state’s mental health system is essential and long overdue,” she said.

The World Health Organization says there was a 25 percent rise in anxiety and depression during the first year of the pandemic.

Part of that increase is blamed on the lack of access to mental health services.

Hochul’s plan would direct state-licensed hospitals to reopen 850 inpatient psychiatric beds that went offline during the pandemic. The state also would create 150 new adult beds in state-operated psychiatric hospitals.

At Watertown’s Samaritan Health, Mental Health Services Director Tina O’Neil says this is just what the north country needs.

“Hopefully more access right here locally with more care coordination, wrap-around services, and those kind of things,” she said.

Expanding mental health services for children is also part of the plan. O’Neil says Samaritan is always looking for psychiatric beds for children.

“We’re hopeful that this will actually flourish and it will mean more access and essentially quicker treatment,” she said.

Citizens Advocates operates urgent care centers for mental health. CEO James Button agrees with the direction Governor Hochul is going.

“Let’s take it a step further. We want folks to live with purpose and thrive in these communities, and we just feel like we can’t do that without the adequate resources,” he said.

Hochul also announced that more than 3,500 housing units will be built to help those suffering from mental health problems and added it could be a way to combat homelessness.