CSEA Reps Speak-Out Against Proposed BC Mental Health Clinic Closure

A public meeting was held at the Broome County Library on October 7th about the potential closure of the Broome County Mental Health Clinic. At the event several local politicians/political candidates and public service union representatives spoke about the negative impact this closure would have on the community. No person that had been or was receiving assistance from the clinic spoke (the speakers were per-arranged), although many were in attendance with friends, and family. Dave Jenkins and Jon Englert were two workers that spoke out against the closure. Jenkins is the CSEA President of Local 449, representing workers at Broome Developmental Center (BDC). His words are reproduced below:                                                                                                                                              Once again I find myself speaking out against another reckless closure of a public facility as state and local governments look to balance budgets at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens. As some of you might know, I represent 1,300 incredible state employees who have dedicated their lives to the care and advocacy of the developmentally disabled, over 300 of those workers are located at BDC. As everyone knows BDC is scheduled to close in March of 2016—despite claims in Libous’s latest campaign ad.                                                                   Many of the people we currently treat have complicated diagnoses. In many cases our clients have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness in addition to a disability diagnosis. There are a few clients that have recently been placed in community housing that have already required police escorts on several trips to local healthcare facilities. The same goes for those people who depend on the services provided by the mental health clinic.                                                                                                                                                    We are not saving money by closing this facility, we are simply transferring how and where we spend. Just ask the staff CPAP, the county, or the county jail.                                                                                                                                                    Since the closure of BDC seems inevitable, we want to remind the public that our workforce, like those who serve in the mental health clinic, is uniquely qualified and trained to work with and care for the people who will be placed in community. I know that we receive more comprehensive training and have vastly more experience as a workforce than any private provider in the area. And because we get fairly compensated for that care we provide, we don’t see the high turnover that most non-for-profits experience.                                                                                                                                             While we continue to make the case that the public workforce at BDC should be working in these new community settings to care for the people with disabilities who are about to leave or have left BDC in the last few years, what will ultimately be the state of those services for our clients is anybody’s guess. Cuts are happening at every level of government and we shouldn’t assume that services will even be adequate for out clients, much less improved as some politician claims. All of this is a classic example of empty promises that come with the rhetoric of “new and improved,” and “moving forward.” Their attempt to put linguistic lipstick on a pig.                                                                                                                              What appears to be brewing is a perfect storm. The is exactly the wrong time to close the Broome County Mental Health clinic. The elimination of these services and the good jobs they provide is the very last thing this area needs How many more hits can this community take?                                                                                                                                                  The human services offered by New York State over the years had been the standard by which other states measured their own, our system was the prize. But this race for the exit, state and local governments and those elected leaders have taken their eyes off the prize and instead cast their eyes on the price. The results are as illogical as they are immoral. And they numbers simply don’t add up.

Jon Englert, the CSEA President representing workers at the Greater Binghamton Health Center, also spoke out. At one point Englert notes that unionized workers have a greater say in the workplace, making it safer and more caring for all, “clients” and staff. To see the truth in his words one need look no further than the Ebola situation playing out in the “Right to Work” state of Texas, where an un-unionized nurse fell victim to Ebola and for-profit healthcare model. Nurses in that setting had no representation and no voice, leaving them and the entire Dallas metro area exposed to this deadly virus. Here’s what he had to tell the BC Legislature:                                                                                                                                                              We support maintaining essential community services as public services. They are essential to a strong local economy and a good quality of life.                                                                                                                                                     Like many other public services, the Mental Health Clinic is a safety net for the population that private providers can’t or won’t serve. It serves as a safety net for patients without any ability to pay, and those who are labeled “difficult” or non-compliant patients who are turned away or dropped by private providers.                                                                                             A safety net for those with mental health problems is also essential to good public safety and a healthy community, as attested to by those with experience as first responders. We support maintaining a qualified, well-trained staff working under union contract to serve those patients because quality and safety is critical in these jobs. Union-organized workers have some protections if they speak out about shoddy practices or patient neglect compared to un-unionized workers.                                                                                               We support a unionized workforce in this and other critical services because good jobs are good for our local economy. Low wages and poor benefits don’t help our economy or our tax base.                                                                                                                                                    We support a public mental health clinic because we need a provider of last resort that has standards set by a public body that is transparent and accountable to the taxpayers.                                                                                                                                              In mental health the history shows that:                                                                                     -Loss of public services = fewer total services (promised community replacement never materializes).                                                                                                                                          – Community providers currently lack capacity to serve all                                                             -Not-for-profit providers typically offer lower wagers and fewer benefits and because of this they take money out of the community.                                                                           -Community losses the right to transparency in operations/salaries, etc.                                    -Private providers who set their own standards and terms are not answerable to the community and can choose to discontinue a service however great.

And like our union brothers and sisters working directly in the field we care about the health and welfare of our neighbors and our community. We believe that strong communities assure essential services are available for those who need them and that this makes for a stronger, more prosperous, and safer community for all.

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