National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Following is a letter from NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn to Governor George Pataki of New York,

 in response to the report by Michael Winerip in the New York Times Magazine documenting the deplorable lack of treatment and services that are known to be effective and affordable for
people with severe mental illnesses.

Chris Marshall
For Immediate Release
2 Jun 99

NAMI members are encouraged to use this compelling report to augment advocacy efforts,

June 1, 1999

The Honorable George E. Pataki
Executive Chamber State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Pataki:

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) calls on you to put things right. End the criminalization, discrimination, homelessness, social isolation, and premature death that too often mark the lives of persons with mental illness.

NAMI is the nation’s leading grassroots advocacy organization solely dedicated to improving the quality of life of individuals affected by severe mental illnesses. Our more than 200,000 members across the country know only too well the bleak reality that Michael Winerip documented vividly in "Bedlam on the Streets" in The New York Times Magazine on May 23, 1999.

While certainly not unique to the state of New York, the failure of the state’s mental health system to provide the treatments, services and programs needed by Andrew Goldstein guarantees that further tragedies will happen. Although complicated, solutions to New York’s crisis do exist.

We ask you to support the following moderate, cost-effective initiatives:

  • Support mental health parity legislation, which will finally end insurance discrimination against those with mental illnesses. A. 6235 (Brennan) passed unanimously in the state assembly and S. 2089 (Libous), a similar bill now in the insurance committee, has 20 senate-majority sponsors. Without timely and adequate care, the results of untreated mental illness can be tragic – and ultimately, more costly – to the citizens of New York. Please join the 12 other Republican governors, including George Bush of Texas and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, who have signed similar parity laws.
  • Support housing for people with mental illness. Last year, you initiated the "New York Cares" program for people with developmental disabilities, a $28 million program that created more than 5,000 housing units and other supports. Unfortunately, no new money to create similar housing for individuals with mental illness was added to this year’s budget. Certainly the state of New York can do better than this.
  • Support statewide intensive community supports characterized by comprehensive community treatment, rehabilitation, and support services on a 24-hour-per-day, seven-day-per-week basis – a far less expensive service than institutionalization. New York State currently has only 14 assertive community treatment teams, serving only a fraction of those in need; 12 are located in New York City, but ten times that number are needed.
  • Support access to the best medications. Health plans and mental health special needs plans must offer access to all effective and medically appropriate medications. If a formulary is used, exceptions must be allowed when medically indicated.
  • Support establishment of external, third-party consumer satisfaction teams, such as those that operate in Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, to ensure provider and health plan accountability and responsiveness.

NAMI recognizes the importance, as a last resort, of court-ordered outpatient treatment for responding to individuals who are habitually non-compliant with treatment and who predictably deteriorate as a result of this lack of treatment. But, as Andrew Goldstein’s struggle typifies, far more individuals try to get treatment and can’t. People with severe mental illnesses and their families must, first, be assured that community services and programs are in place.

Governor Pataki, you have the power to help hundreds of thousands of New York citizens who suffer from severe mental illnesses, as well as their families and the broader communities in which they live and work. A compassionate, civilized society does not allow its people to suffer needlessly. Please pledge your leadership and support to helping individuals with severe mental illnesses reclaim their lives.


Laurie Flynn
Executive Director cc: James Stone, Commissioner,
New York State Office of Mental Health