Good Afternoon Chairman Cohen and members of the Committee. My name is Dr. Matthews Hurley and I am First Vice President of Doctors Council SEIU which represents thousands of doctors in the Metropolitan area, including in every NYC Health + Hospitals facility, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, correctional facilities including Rikers Island, and other New York City agencies. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
At the heart of ThriveNYC is the notion that the City should support and create more and better services for those with behavioral and mental illness, as well as promote a range of treatment options and increase access to help. We could not agree more.
As clinicians, we know that mental disorders are not only serious issues by themselves but can be tied to other health problems like hypertension and heart disease. For those in low-income communities, managing the multidisciplinary challenge of mental illness can lead to even greater health disparities.
Our members are the front line physicians and dentists in the City’s public health system and at Rikers Island, so we know all too well the dangers of substance abuse, misdiagnosed mental illness and the stigma of mental illness sometimes found in various communities. Our physicians are prepared to offer advice and guidance to support the initiatives outlined in Thrive NYC, such as training community workers, clergy and educators, as well as assisting with public awareness and outreach.
I would like to outline a number of areas where our front-line experience and expertise can be put to work and I hope that City agencies will engage Doctors Council in these efforts.
First, as of last year, each public hospital has instituted a working group of clinicians and management called a Collaboration Council. Health + Hospitals also instituted a system-wide Council. This is a venue for discussing improvements and best practices in quality patient care. I believe we can use upcoming Collaboration Council meetings to more closely examine mental health and medical care services, as well as outpatient psychiatric treatment in the public hospital system.
Second, as you may know, our members are the providers of school-based health services. These services have faced cuts in recent years. With hospital closures and consolidations in our communities, school based services are more important than ever. The statistics presented in the ThriveNYC report stating that 8 % of high school students report attempting suicide are staggering. Starting with Pre-K through high school, psychiatrists should be readily available in school-based settings. We support the administration’s efforts to bring new mental health services, staff and clinics to public schools and we would like to be a partner in that effort.
Third, much has been reported recently about mental health issues at Rikers Island. Our doctors working at Rikers Island are keenly aware of the disturbing growth of detainees with mental health issues on the island. On any given day in New York City jails, as many as 40% of those detained have an identified mental health-related problem, not even including substance misuse or dependence. Even with new programs and housing units in place to address these issues, detainees with behavioral health issues at Rikers are underserved because of significant shortcomings in medical staffing. With the recent transition to Health + Hospitals as the corrections healthcare provider, we hope that the staffing levels of psychiatrists will be increased in order to address emergency situations, continuing care and discharge planning.
Doctors Council SEIU is prepared to offer its input and partnership in efforts like the NYC Mental Health Corps and the Mayor’s Conference for Mental Health. We are already on the front lines providing care to New York City’s most at-risk communities.
Furthermore, we welcome the appointment of Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio and look forward to briefing her on ways that our members can help with the mental health crisis facing New York City.