The state of New York is failing its citizens with mental health issues.
A new collaborative report from ProPublica, Frontline, and the New York Times published on Thursday reviewed the results of a 2014 decision by the New York state government to push people with mental health challenges out of publicly funded institutions and into private apartments. Despite the defenses offered by the operators of this new system, the experiment has not gone well, with dozens of people either dying or returning to mental health institutions.
The new program found its origins in a 2003 series by the Times that shined a light on poor conditions in adult group homes. This led to a lawsuit against the state and a 2009 ruling in which a judge found that New York was violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by requiring some patients to remain in adult group homes. A big part of this ruling stemmed from the fact that those running the homes were boosting their Medicaid numbers to pump more funding into the homes. Seeing this as an opportunity to save the state money and put an end to the deplorable conditions of the homes, the judge sided with the plaintiffs.
The state successfully appealed the ruling, but was sued again; it opted in 2014 to settle rather than go through another trial, agreeing to develop a new approach. As part of that settlement, the state decided to start moving people out of the group homes and into affordable housing apartments. The resulting approach is known as scattered site supportive housing. The underlying idea is that those with mental health issues are capable of living by themselves, with the assistance of social workers to help them navigate the local and state governments to seek financial assistance.
But ideas that seem well-balanced when pitched on paper rarely end up working out in a tidy manner. After playing hardball with the outlets for months, the state finally released the statistics to the journalists on the success rate of the program. They showed that, of the 764 people that moved from these group homes, 32 died and 39 returned to the homes. The outlets also found repeated instances in which people with severe cases of a variety of disorders, such as schizophrenia, weren’t properly monitored and protected by the system, but instead removed from adult group homes and left on their own.
By the estimation of dozens of social workers from the adult homes interviewed by the publication, “a quarter to half” of their former clients ended up either dead or in a worsened mental state as result of being place in the scattered site supportive housing.
New York’s Office of Mental Health downplayed the findings, telling ProPublica that only a “small percentage” of those moved into the program couldn’t live alone.
The Department of Justice, which joined the lawsuit against New York, is now trying to install this system in other states; so far, per ProPublica, they’re targeting North Carolina, Illinois, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Mississippi. While you should go read the full report to understand the very real and devastating consequences of abandoning these people, it’s plain to see that an opportunity to save money has left one of America’s must vulnerable populations footing the bill, with either their health or, eventually, their lives.