June 27, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
An agreement reached in the closing hours of the state legislature’s session will help preserve jobs for state workers in mental-health and developmental-disabilities programs, the Civil Service Employees Association says.
The “side letter agreement” among the Assembly, Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo represents a commitment in writing that if the state closes facilities or programs for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled, it will first build up related services in the same community, says CSEA director of communications Stephen A. Madarasz.
The agreement was brokered by two Binghamton-area legislators, Republican state Sen. Thomas Libous and Democratic Assemblymember Donna Lupardo, after the Senate passed a bill to freeze closures of such facilities. That bill was what brought the parties to the table, says Madarasz, but the agreement reached is “far better than what the freeze would have done on its own.”
The freeze alone might have just delayed closures until next year, he said. With nonprofit organizations handling 85% of services for the developmentally disabled, “we had every expectation that over time we would see the state getting out of the business” and outsourcing public employees’ jobs.
The agreement does not include specific guarantees, such as about the Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills on Long Island. The state Office of Mental Health has planned to close it, but agreed to keep it open until next year after strong objections from patients’ families, the CSEA and the Public Employees Federation, and local elected officials. What the deal is, says Madarasz, is a commitment to “no rundown of state services” even if the model of delivering them is changed, such as from an inpatient facility to a group home or social-work support for individuals living independently.
“We believe it will provide a future for the people of Sagamore,” he says.
“New York’s mental-health and developmental-disabilities policies, priorities, and access to care all require serious improvement,” CSEA President Danny Donohue said in a statement. “This agreement settles any debate about how we should move forward to address needs and recognizes that it is essential that state services have a role in a better tomorrow.”