The Ulster C.A.R.E.S initiative ensures the ongoing provision of quality mental health services to Ulster County’s residents regardless of their ability to pay
KINGSTON, N.Y. – This morning, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein unveiled “Ulster C.A.R.E.S.,” an innovative plan to guarantee that high quality mental health services are available to Ulster County’s residents regardless of their ability to pay. “In the face of a serious long-term funding crisis resulting from major reductions in State and Federal aid, more than $8 million over the past four years, our mental health and other health and human services professionals have collaborated to design Ulster C.A.R.E.S. as part of my Administration’s ongoing commitment to transform County government into a sustainable organization that ensures high quality services are available to Ulster County residents in need while simultaneously protecting taxpayers,” said County Executive Hein.
The County Executive continued, “It’s not about a bigger government or a smaller government… it’s always about a better government… And so my Administration is steadfast in our commitment to reshape government to better serve the people. In this process, we are proud to have CSEA’s support and the fact that this important step is being accomplished without any layoffs is a testament to the cooperation of the entire team.”
With the Ulster C.A.R.E.S. initiative, Ulster County will participate with Hudson Valley Mental Health, Inc. (HVMH) in a public/private partnership to operate the County’s adult mental health clinics in Kingston, Ellenville and New Paltz. HVMH, a local not-for-profit community based provider, has a long-standing record of providing high quality mental health treatment services that are accessible, affordable and culturally sensitive. To provide for continuity of care there is a thorough transition period with final implementation scheduled for January 2014. The County Executive and HVMH looks forward to working with the appropriate Legislative committees to bring this critical initiative to fruition.
“My administration has always been committed to making sure that high quality mental health services are available for everyone in need, regardless of ability to pay,” said County Executive Hein. “The Ulster C.A.R.E.S. initiative accomplishes this now and long into the future. I want to thank the New York State Office of Mental Health for assisting us with the creation of this model program that provides enhanced services to the residents of Ulster County.”
Commissioner of Health and Mental Health Carol M. Smith, M.D., M.P.H stated, “We are very pleased to welcome HVMH to Ulster County. HVMH has established a stellar record of providing quality mental health care services to the people of the Hudson Valley region for many years. We look forward to working with HVMH to ensure that all people in Ulster County, who are in need of mental health services, are able to access this care in our existing Kingston, Ellenville, and New Paltz clinics. I commend County Executive, Michael Hein, for his leadership in ensuring that quality mental health care clinic services are preserved for the people of Ulster County in these challenging times.”
“Ulster County has always been committed to accessible, quality care for individuals with behavioral healthcare needs,” said Cheryl Qamar, Ulster County Department of Mental Health Deputy Commissioner. “Our clients have come to trust and rely upon our services at critical times in their lives. I am confident that Ulster C.A.R.E.S. not only extends that trust but ensures that they will be guaranteed access to quality care. This is essential at a time when so much is changing around us in terms of the delivery of mental health services. Ulster C.A.R.E.S. is a commitment to safeguard that trust and secure services into the future.”
With the Ulster C.A.R.E.S. initiative, Ulster County will lease its clinical space and equipment to HVMH and the Ulster County Department of Mental Health’s 17 professional staff will continue to provide direct mental health care services, ensuring patients continuity of care and a seamless transition. Ulster C.A.R.E.S creates the opportunity for the Department of Mental Health to enhance its other mental health services and better address emerging needs, such as working with school and other community-based mental health organizations on issues like prevention.
In addition, 13 employees of the Department of Mental Health will be transferred to the Department of Social Services (DSS). These employees will staff a new Energy Assistance Unit within DSS to help Ulster County residents, including seniors and Veterans, to better access the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which is 100% Federally funded, and other economic assistance programs, as well as the Coordinated Children’s Services Division, in order to further meet the needs of children and families.
All County employees will maintain their current employment status, wages and benefits, and collective bargaining rights, bringing long-term stability to the employees of the Department of Mental Health. According to Todd Schmidt, President of CSEA Unit 8950, which represents the Department of Mental Health employees, “CSEA has a commitment from the County Executive that there will be no layoffs of CSEA members in the Department of Mental Health and none of our members will suffer any financial setback as a result of this plan. Further, we believe that as a result of this plan, services will be maintained and/or strengthened, benefitting our community as a whole. CSEA recognizes the hard work of the County Executive in creating this plan.”
An innovative solution like the Ulster C.A.R.E.S initiative is required because Ulster County’s Federal and State aid for mental health clinic services has declined from over $16 million in 2009 to approximately $8 million in 2013, a decrease of over 50% in the last four years. At the same time, new State mandates and a changing regulatory environment are causing an increasing demand for staff time. Without the Ulster C.A.R.E.S. initiative, Ulster County’s choices were unacceptable: reductions in access to mental health services or other equally important but non-mandated services, potential employee layoffs and/or significant tax increases.
“The Executive Committee of the Community Services Board has been involved in the process that brings about the change in adult services of the Department of Mental Health,” said Community Services Board Chair Theresa Pabon. “We were briefed a few times, asked questions and support the County Executive and the team at the Department of Mental Health in this decision. There are many counties going through similar changes due to new regulations and financial constraints, but none that I know of has come up with a plan that not only continues to provide services but saves the jobs of County employees.
I certainly wish this move wasn’t necessary, but believe it is a positive solution.”
Dr. Smith added, “Other counties across New York State that still provide mental health services are facing these same issues. Some have chosen to limit their mental health clinic services to just people on Medicaid, and refuse to treat people with third party insurance altogether. Others have decreased hours of operation. Because of County Executive Hein’s innovative plan, Ulster County’s residents needing mental heath care services are now protected.”
“County Executive Hein’s Ulster C.A.R.E.S. initiative is a testament to the success of the Charter form of government, said Ulster County Commissioner of the Department of Social Services Michael Iapoce. “Without a County Executive overseeing the entire County operation, the Mental Health Department and the Department of Social Services would have remained in different silos, and this type of synergy could not have been created.”
“Hudson Valley Mental Health is very much looking forward to working with the Ulster County Department of Mental Health on the transition of outpatient clinic services to HVMH,” said Kevin M. Hazucha, LCSW-R, HVMH President. “Ulster County Department of Mental Health’s commitment to high quality care fits well with our own commitment to provide the best clinical services to residents of the Hudson Valley. This mutual commitment has been a guiding theme that has steered the entire course of our open and transparent discussions. We have every confidence that this association will be extremely positive and will preserve the ideals that have directed Ulster County’s service provision.”
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Attachments: Power point presentation, additional handouts and photo of County Executive Mike Hein with, from left to right, Deputy County Executive Ken Crannell, DSS Commissioner Michael Iapoce, Department of Mental Health Deputy Commissioner Cheryl Qamar, Director of Department of Youth and Human Rights Evelyn Clarke, Director of the Office for the Aging Anne Cardinale and Commissioner of the Departments of Health and Mental Health Dr. Carol Smith.