Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mental Illness – Fighting Stigma and Improving Access to Care

by Jennifer Swayne, Staff Attorney – Health Justice Program

On Friday, December 14, 2012, we once again faced unspeakable tragedy as a gunman broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and opened fire, killing a total of 28 people—20 of whom were children. While many of the initial conversations surrounding this horrible tragedy focused on the ongoing debate about gun control, very few of those conversations focused on mental illness, the stigma surrounding it, and access to mental health care services. Some news sources have reported that the gunman faced mental illness, though it is not clear what, if any, mental health services he and his family may have sought in the past.  However, what is certain is that we need to engage in dialogue on mental illness, as there are many individuals who face significant stigma and who are not able to access critical mental health services consistently.

Mental illness knows no race, culture, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, age, gender, or religion, yet there is stigma and overwhelming silence surrounding its impact.  Many have probably encountered someone with mental illness without even realizing it, especially since about 1 in 4 adults age 18 and over, and about 1 in 5 children age birth to 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives.  Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, however, we continue to miss opportunities to help others get the support and assistance they need, especially when those who exhibit signs of mental illness are simply labeled and dismissed as “crazy.”  Instead, we are relegated to hindsight assessment when it is much too late to take action.

The mass shooting that happened in Newtown is an extreme, and there is nothing that excuses the actions of the gunman.  However, mental illness is much more complex than this extreme case of violence we have witnessed suggests. For instance, people with mental illness face greater risk of becoming the victim of crime rather than being the perpetrator.  Therefore, we must be careful not to let a single person’s actions symbolize our collective understanding of how mental illness manifests and operates.

Further, we have a health care system where mental health parity has been lacking, and sadly, quality mental health services remain a luxury reserved for those who have the ability to pay in cash for those services.  The result is that those who have no insurance, those who rely on private insurance with limited mental health benefits, and those who rely on public insurance often go without needed mental health services that can help them live full and productive lives. Untreated mental illness can result in homelessness, incarceration, victimization, high burden placed on families and caretakers, and productivity loss, not to mention the financial costs of healthcare expenditures resulting directly from failure to treat mental illness sooner rather than later.

New York State is in the process of redesigning its system of behavioral health services for some of the most vulnerable people in our society—low-income children from birth to age 21 who use public insurance.  This is a group that has suffered immensely from lack of adequate mental health services. Under Medicaid, the system of mental health care for children has been overwhelmingly underfunded and the New York State systems that serve children—Department of Health (DOH), Office of Mental Health (OMH), Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), Department of Education (DOE)—and other agencies at the local level, have not coordinated their efforts to serve children, leading to a disjointed system.

It is promising that New York State is engaging in a process to revamp the system of care for our children, but we have to make sure that it is a system that will actually work and result in real change or else children will continue to face dire consequences and suffer from the stigma of mental illness well into adulthood.  Children with mental health problems have lower educational achievement, greater involvement with the criminal justice system and fewer stable and long-term placements in the child welfare system than their peers.  In attempts to access mental health services, publicly insured children are also more likely to rely on restrictive or costly services such as juvenile detention, residential treatment, emergency rooms, and are more likely to be placed out of their homes in order to obtain critical services, as opposed to being able to readily access outpatient services, especially if they are children of color.

On December 14, NYLPI and the Children’s Defense Fund submitted joint comments (which you can access here) regarding the critical mental health services that children need to New York’s OMH, OASAS, and OCFS.  In our comments we:

(1) address the health disparities that impact receipt of mental health care;

(2) list the services that children should receive and who should provide those services;

(3) highlight the importance of cultural and linguistic competency;

(4) discuss the need for early identification and prevention measures such as behavioral health screening; and

(5) stress the need for training and funding so that providers are able to actually provide the appropriate services.

As we can see, mental illness is complex and it is not going away.  We must proactively engage in creating a better system of care rather than responding in the aftermath of tragedy. It is vital that we have honest and ongoing conversations about the state of our society, mental illness, stigma, and access to appropriate mental health care services.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under health disparities, insurance

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law Release Report Documenting Hundreds of Cases of Coerced Medical Repatriation of Undocumented Immigrants by U.S. Hospitals

Medical repatriations of undocumented immigrants likely to rise as result of federal funding reductions to safety net hospitals under Affordable Care Act

______________________________________________________________________________

New York, NY, and Newark, New Jersey, December 17, 2012 − Today, the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) at Seton Hall University School of Law and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) released a report documenting an alarming number of cases in which U.S. hospitals have forcibly repatriated vulnerable undocumented patients, who are ineligible for public insurance as a result of their immigration status, in an effort to cut costs. This practice is inherently risky and often results in significant deterioration of a patient’s health, or even death.  The report asserts that such actions are in violation of basic human rights, in particular the right to due process and the right to life.

According to the report, the U.S. is responsible for this situation by failing to appropriately reform immigration and health care laws and protect those within its borders from human rights abuses. The report argues that medical deportations will likely increase as safety net hospitals, which provide the majority of care to undocumented and un- or underinsured patients, encounter tremendous financial pressure resulting from dramatic funding cutbacks under the Affordable Care Act.

The report cites more than 800 cases of attempted or actual medical deportations across the country in recent years, including: a nineteen-year-old girl who died shortly after being wheeled out of a hospital back entrance typically used for garbage disposal and transferred to Mexico; a car accident victim who died shortly after being left on the tarmac at an airport in Guatemala; and a young man with catastrophic brain injury who remains bed-ridden and suffering from constant seizures after being forcibly deported to his elderly mother’s hilltop home in Guatemala.

According to Lori A. Nessel, a Professor at Seton Hall University School of Law and Director of the School’s Center for Social Justice, “When immigrants are in need of ongoing medical care, they find themselves at the crossroads of two systems that are in dire need of reform—health care and immigration law. Aside from emergency care, hospitals are not reimbursed by the government for providing ongoing treatment for uninsured immigrant patients.  Therefore, many hospitals are engaging in de facto deportations of immigrant patients without any governmental oversight or accountability.  This type of situation is ripe for abuse.”

“Any efforts at comprehensive immigration reform must take into account the reality that there are millions of immigrants with long-standing ties to this country who are not eligible for health insurance.  Because health reform has excluded these immigrants from its reach, they remain uninsured and at a heightened risk of medical deportation,” added Shena Elrington, Director of the Health Justice Program at NYLPI. “Absent legislative or regulatory change, the number of forced or coerced medical repatriations is likely to grow as hospitals face mounting financial pressures and reduced Charity Care and federal contributions.”

Rachel Lopez, an Assistant Clinical Professor with CSJ stated, “The U.S. is bound to protect immigrants’ rights to due process under both international law and the U.S. Constitution.  Hospitals are becoming immigration agents and taking matters into their own hands.  It is incumbent on the government to stop the disturbing practice of medical deportation and to ensure that all persons within the country are treated with basic dignity.”

More information about this issue can be found at medicalrepatriation.wordpress.com, a NYLPI- and CSJ-run website that monitors news and advocacy developments on the topic of medical deportation.

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) advances equality and civil rights, with a focus on health justice, disability rights and environmental justice, through the power of community lawyering and partnerships with the private bar. Through community lawyering, NYLPI puts its legal, policy and community organizing expertise at the service of New York City communities and individuals.

About the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law

The Center for Social Justice (CSJ) is one of the nation’s strongest pro bono and clinical programs, empowering students to gain critical, hands-on experience by providing pro bono legal services for economically disadvantaged residents in the region. The cases on which students work span the range from the local to global. Providing educational equity for urban students, litigating on behalf of the victims of real estate fraud, protecting the human rights of immigrants, and obtaining asylum for those fleeing persecution are just some of the issues that CSJ faculty and students team up to address.

______________________________________________________________________________

Media Contacts:

Lori A. Nessel, Professor of Law and Director, Center for Social Justice, Seton Hall University School of Law, Lori.Nessel@shu.edu, 973-642-8708

Stephanie Ramirez, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, sramirez@groupgordon.com, 212-784-5704

1 Comment

Filed under federal, immigrant health, immigrant rights, insurance, know your rights, medical deportation

Suffolk County Language Access Executive Order Signed!

by Lindsey Hennawi, Program Assistant

Great news! On November 14th, 2012, Suffolk County Executive Steve Ballone signed an executive order requiring county government agencies to translate vital public documents into the top six languages spoken by limited English proficient (LEP) residents of Suffolk County and to provide interpretation services for all LEP residents as well.

Twenty percent of Suffolk County’s 1.5 million residents are LEP. Now, residents whose primary languages are Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Polish, French Creole, and Portuguese will be able to access local government offices and communicate with officials. This means victims of domestic violence and hate crimes can access police protection. Residents affected by Superstorm Sandy can receive much needed information about recovery efforts. Support services such as unemployment insurance and public benefits are now also accessible to LEP residents. Thanks to this executive order, an individual’s language will no longer be a barrier to participation in government services or access to important resources.

The order is descended from similar legislation, including President Clinton’s 2000 executive order that mandated all agencies receiving federal funding develop language access plans in order to comply with the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of discrimination based on national origin; Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Order 120, signed in 2008, that bans city agencies from discriminating against residents based on their primary language or national origin; and Governor Cuomo’s 2011 Executive Order 26 that does the same for executive state agencies.

One of the first of its kind in a suburban county in the United States, Mr. Ballone’s executive order comes on the heels of the previous Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, who in his tenure utilized county police as immigration agents, criminalized Latino day laborers, and marginalized Latino-majority neighborhoods, earning the county a reputation for anti-immigrant resentment and violence.

Suffolk County’s executive order is a result of the advocacy of the organizations with which NYLPI partnered on this campaign, including the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, Make the Road New York, the Center for Popular Democracy, and other groups that have tirelessly promoted immigrants’ rights in Suffolk County for years. Since 2009, NYLPI has advocated for language access orders on the city, state, and county level, and is currently working to develop materials to help other advocates replicate these efforts.

We are thrilled Suffolk County has taken this critical step toward advancing the civil rights of LEP individuals and making New York a more inclusive home for all its diverse residents. Congratulations to all of the advocates involved and thank you, Steve Ballone, for your work toward equality and justice on behalf of LEP residents! May yours be one of many county orders to come.

Leave a comment

Filed under immigrant health, immigrant rights, know your rights, language access, legislation, people of color