NYS OMH’s Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC) meeting


I participated, together with other members of The Citywide Mental Health Project (Bert Coffman was wearing his many hats), in the MAC meeting (via phone conference) this last Tuesday. What follows is my personal take on the meeting discussions. These are the headings:

Who attended the meeting?

Where are the consumers?

Topics discussed

SH, crime in SH and licensing

Changes to the SH Guidelines = No CAB (consumer advisory boards)?

Who attended the meeting?

Ms. Moira Tashjian, Director of OMH’s Housing Development department attended the meeting by invitation of the committee, although I have the distinctive feeling that OMH wants her to be in this cultural committee, even though housing per se is not a ‘cultural’ issue directly. If I understood correctly, she will be attending the monthly MAC’s phone conferences. I welcome her participation and consider it a plus for us to be able to ask questions directly to officers of the OMH.

There were three (?) providers of supported housing (SH) services from different NY regions: Mr. Huygen from the NYC area, I didn’t get the names of the others, sorry.

Where are the consumers?

Apart from me and my group (Bert Coffman was wearing his many hats), there were no other recipients of services or their representatives. This is a salient point given that this ‘advisory’ committee, as all State and citywide mental health ‘consumers advisory boards’, are for the purpose of ‘giving recipients a voice in our mental health-policy-making system’. I’m sure you can guess why I put those words in curly marks. Read my document The elephant in the NY State mental health system if you can’t guess it.

The lack of consumers (I will call them ‘recipients’ from now on because ‘consumers’ does not describe what we are in this system) participation, in my view, make these boards de facto tools for the providers. Do they need these policy tools when they already have trade organizations and high paid lobbyers, and when they DIRECTLY help write many of the rules that affect us?

I know that Mrs. Frances PriesterMoss (coordinator) is trying to increase recipient’s participation in the committee. I have some ideas that would guarantee participation, but it requires for Ms. Tashjian to help us with the CABs in the programs. More on this below.

Topics discussed

SH, crime in SH and licensing

Ms. Tashjian informed us about all the new projects for housing for the mental health community. I believe her report will be made available soon for public information. She also went over what I call OMH’s SH ‘licensing’ scheme. As some of you know, I have asked her to explain to the public why more than three-quarters of housing are being privatized by un-licensing them, and to tell them that unlicensed means not regulated and no legal rights for the ‘tenants’ in it.

I didn’t get the answer I was awaiting from her. Actually, the whole enchilada about SH and unlicensed housing got more entangled when she discussed the issue of what level of ‘functioning’ is required for each category of housing.

Some of the providers brought the issue of recipients with history of violence been referred for SH. Ms. Tashjian alleges that a history of violence and low functioning are not impediment for acceptance into SH. I claim she is in the wrong there.

OMH is as explicit about levels of functioning requirement for each housing modality as its contradictory actual practice is. Just go online and read OMH’s RFP (request for proposal), each requests spells what type of ‘population’ a particular SH project is made for. This issue of housing people with severe mental health problems in SH, which is for people more ‘stabilized’ and able to function in the community with less supervision (that’s why OMH makes them ‘unlicensed’)  has been discussed in court many times, the last time was in the DAI v. NYS OMH case.

I didn’t want to raise the issue due to not enough time, but I did mention that this policy of housing people with violent history makes the CABs in the programs a necessity so that we can help the providers develop ways to cope with the situation.

I asked her if she was aware of the May incident where a recipient of SH in Brooklyn was murdered INSIDE the building by the woman’s also SH recipient lover. She said she ‘heard’ about it. Did anyone blink? Was the incident reported, as mandated,  to her for investigation on quality of services (could it have been prevented, etc.)?

Look, there is not enough housing to comply with OLMSTEAD, so OMH has been ‘dumping’ (excuse the expression) everybody everywhere. Just as it did when the people demanded to close the chambers-of-torture called psych hospitals of the 1970s; the state dumped the patients to the street. Now, they dump everybody in the few housing. OMH doesn’t care about the ‘unintended’ consequences of its policies. The courts tend to protect them.

There is not enough housing (money goes to ‘stupid wars’), it’s a policy issue. We NEED to discuss this policy as a community.

 Changes to the SH Guidelines = No CAB?

The SH Guidelines will be “updated”, according to Ms. Tashjian, (shall we say) ‘modernized’ to live up to the new millennium (my words). Are the current ‘guidelines’ that state that providers of SH must allow for consumers to participate, this is a direct quote, “in the policy making of the program” to be eliminated?

Ms. Moira brought this information about the changes when I asked her if she could help us to make providers comply with that guideline. She said that she needed to do more “research” about these CABs. I asked her directly to tell me if she was intending to eliminate that particular guideline; her answer was that she couldn’t answer at this point until she reads the guidelines.

When I asked her if she is mandated to inform the recipients about these changes or call for public comments before making the changes, she said that “the providers will be informed”. The context of the answer is that the “SH Guidelines” is for the providers. Whatever changes made will affect you without your consent or knowledge.

I think I also told her that I would consider eliminating the CAB provision to be a BETRAYAL to us recipients of mental health services. I may have used the word “BACKSTABBING”, I don’t remember which one I used. I was just blown away when she mentioned the changes to the guidelines. You can imagine.

None of the providers took a stands to protect the CABs.  I hope they were as blown away as I was and will stand with us if OMH tries to eliminate the CABs provision.

But, more than anything, I hope that Ms. Tashjian has the presence of mind to NOT take a step that will be construed as an attack on our right to have a voice in the programs.

In a time when we are been blamed for the violence in our society, we need to INCREASE our voice, NOT TO HAVE IT SILENCED.

The CABs inside the programs would allow us to reach out for the recipients that OMH supposedly wants to be integrated in the policy decision-making system; it would allow us also to spread information to them. With the problem of lack of housing and having to mix recipients with differing ‘functioning levels’ CABs make more sense as a tool to help maintain quality of services. Working with the providers, the CABs could save $$ to the state by using the rich human power energy and experience currently going to waste and untapped in these programs. Voluntarism can be organized through CABs to improve quality of services.

The only reason I can see for OMH to eliminate the CABs is if they are afraid that we will bring to light all the issues of abuse, disrespect and neglect in the SH programs of all types.

Should they do it, it will confirm my claims that our mental health system functions within a culture of abuse.

Let’s work together to stop the stigmatization and abuse of people with mental disabilities.

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