Listening Forums Lead to Improvements for New Yorkers with Multiple, Complex Health Care Needs

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 29, 2007) - Agencies serving New Yorkers' health, mental health, disabilities and addiction treatment services are taking aggressive steps to make it easier for people to find and use the services they need.

An integrated services directory under development will help people with multiple health needs, such as a developmentally disabled person suffering from chronic depression, to find needed services instead of navigating by themselves the complexities of the state offices of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and the Department of Health

The four agencies also are implementing better communication and collaboration strategies at the local, county and regional levels between the multiple systems, and will provide a single point of accountability within each state agency to serve as a liaison to coordinate information requests and follow up on more complex concerns.

These innovations sprang from Governor Eliot Spitzer's "People First" Coordinated Care Listening Forums, held in the spring and summer in New Paltz, Syracuse, Buffalo, Queens and Plattsburgh with the commissioners of the four agencies. More than 2,200 consumers, family members, providers, community members, and local government representatives attended one or more of the forums. More than 1,000 people submitted concerns, asked questions, and shared their experiences with these health care systems.

"We want a health care system that puts the needs of the individuals at the forefront," Governor Spitzer said. "As we move forward with this patient-centered philosophy, we will ensure that all systems of care are working together to provide high-quality, affordable health care for New Yorkers and their families. I thank all the people who attended these forums, submitted ideas and sent emails to the commissioners to tell what works well – and what doesn't."

Other immediate actions taken as a result of the Forums are:

  • At the Department of Health, Requests for Proposals/Applications (RFPs/RFAs) are discussed with other agencies, and innovative ideas like co-located services are being included as standards of care; for example, providing outpatient mental health services in the same building as primary care clinics or substance abuse treatment.
  • OMH and OASAS's new statewide Task Force on Co-Occurring Disorders will recommend improvements in the care of people with co-occurring mental health and chemical dependency disorders.
  • OMRDD and OMH are developing a new model for regional office collaboration for people with dual mental health and developmental disability diagnoses.
  • OASAS has begun sharing its County Planning System with OMH, OMRDD, and will include DOH in the future as a step toward coordinated planning efforts.

A longer-term goal is to systematically eliminate the structural, financing and regulatory barriers to access and coordinate the state's services. The re-invigoration of the Inter-Office Coordinating Council (IOCC) will direct this effort. The Council, chaired by OASAS with OMH and OMRDD as members, is charged with comprehensive planning, development and implementation of all facets of prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of mental illness, mental retardation and developmental disability, alcoholism, chemical dependency and substance abuse, as well as eliminating gaps in services.

An interagency committee linked to the IOCC will develop a work plan and timeline to improve coordination, integration, and alignment of agency structures and functions to simplify processes, diminish administrative complexity, increase flexibility, which should improve outcomes and enhance the quality of services for adults, children and families. The Department of Health, while not a statutory member of the IOCC, will participate to ensure continued collaboration. Efforts include:

  • Developing recommendations to break down regulatory barriers;
  • Attracting and retaining a qualified workforce;
  • Supporting the efforts of the State's Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council (MISCC) to improve access to housing and transportation for people with disabilities; and
  • Expanding cross-agency public health prevention and awareness and treatment public health campaigns through an interagency task force, beginning with a focus on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

The "People First" Coordinated Care Listening Forums were conducted by OASAS Commissioner Karen M. Carpenter-Palumbo; OMH Commissioner Michael F. Hogan, Ph.D; Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D.; and OMRDD Commissioner Diana Jones Ritter.

OASAS Commissioner Carpenter-Palumbo said, "New Yorkers have spoken about their health care needs, their concerns were loud and clear, and we will make sure that their needs are met. I am proud to help carry out Governor Spitzer's agenda of placing people's health care first and appreciated the opportunity to hear from the hundreds of people who spoke openly about their own personal and family struggles. As we continue to break down the silos that have hindered quality of care for so many years, the lives of thousands of individuals will greatly improve."

DOH Commissioner Daines said, "The 'People First' forums were valuable to me because they highlighted people's true needs for coordinated care. We are vigorously pursuing new ways for our agencies to work together to break down barriers and make our services more user-friendly. Listening to so many New Yorkers was an eye-opening experience, and will help us pursue meaningful reform."

OMH Commissioner Hogan said, "This was a great way to learn about grass-roots concerns and solutions. The feedback we received 'on the road' both complemented and informed what we hear from organized constituency groups. It is clear that access to care – especially to low-cost community mental health services and for people facing multiple challenges – has to be improved. This guidance has shaped our efforts to work more collaboratively."

OMRDD Commissioner Jones Ritter said, "I can say, hands down, this was one of the most effective forum series I've taken part in over the past few years. We're using much of the feedback we received in the weeks and months following the forums, to fine tune the services and supports we provide to our consumers. I am also excited that, through these events, we've reached a new level of collaboration and teamwork with our sister human service agencies."

To view the full report on the "People First Coordinated Care Listening Forums" please visit the web pages listed below: