Study: Changes to NY Mental Health Workforce Adversely Impact Women, Workers of Color

New Cornell study reveals how contraction of the industry and privatization harm specific working-class New Yorkers

ALBANY, NY (04/03/2023) (readMedia)-- A new analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Samples (PUMS) by Cornell ILR Worker Institute researchers demonstrate that New York State's Mental Health-(MH) related workforce has been undergoing significant structural changes since at least the turn of the new millennium, and those changes have disproportionately affected women and workers of color.

Overall, the research found that both the public sector mental healthcare workforce and the state's mental healthcare capacity decreased significantly between 1990 and 2021. Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that ongoing contraction of the public sector mental healthcare workforce in New York State-and the privatization of mental healthcare work it creates-has had and will continue to create disparate and negative impacts on mental health workers, their families, and their communities.

These negative impacts disproportionately affect women, people of color, and working-class New Yorkers. The analysis strongly suggests that public sector mental health facilities in New York create good, well-paying union jobs, at all skill levels, and for residents of all racial-ethnic backgrounds. In addition, more dedicated mental health capacity (e.g., specialized mental health providers and facilities) in New York State could result in fewer suicides, fewer instances of hospitalization due to self-harm, and an overall stronger state of mental health across New York.

"This report backs up what PEF has said for years – that skilled State professionals provide the most compassionate, effective, and efficient care for their fellow New Yorkers," said Wayne Spence, president of the New York State Public Employees Federation, which represents mental healthcare workers across the State. "With mental health concerns at an all-time high, now is the time to invest more, not less, in the State's mental health workforce."

The report's authors noted that the trends toward privatization and austere budgets impacting the New York State MH workforce are costing New Yorkers good paying union jobs, and the jobs lost have been disproportionately held by women and workers of color. Without significant reinvestment and the return or creation of meaningful MH jobs to help New Yorkers, these observable trends will continue to exacerbate patterns of racial, gender, and economic inequality in New York.

Anne Marie Brady, Research Director and Report Author, Cornell-ILR Worker Institute said, "We know that decades of austerity measures and privatization have reduced funding for public sector employees across all agencies in New York State. As state agencies have increasingly outsourced work traditionally done by public sector employees to private contractors, and localities have been forced to cut or limit services on account of budget cutbacks or shortfalls, as the findings in this report confirm, these changes have resulted in a loss of public sector jobs. The mental healthcare sector exemplifies this trend, as policymakers' goals of reducing public spending and healthcare costs have intersected with changing models of care provision, ultimately shrinking the public sector mental healthcare workforce, which as our analysis demonstrates, has adversely affected public sector workers' wages and employment outcomes."

Rev. Nicolle D. Jean-Simon, President of the Schenectady NAACP Branch said, "One only needs to glance at the news headlines to understand that we are in the thralls of a mental health crisis. Now more than ever we need qualified workers on the frontlines. A decline in state government employment in the mental health industry is something that should alarm all of us. Additionally, the fact that this is disproportionately affecting women and people of color is discriminatory. It is part of the mission of the NAACP to eliminate discrimination, and accelerate the well-being, education, and economic security of Black people and all persons of color. It is with this mission at heart that we support the efforts of this report, to demand fair employment opportunities and wages for mental health workers of color and women. The diminishing of the state's public mental healthcare sector and its lack of diversity is to our demise. We need to address this immediately before things get worse."

"It is imperative that every effort is made to recruit and retain African American men as well as other diverse membership groups in the public mental health field in New York State. These providers are a vital resource to the state and clients as they address mental health concerns. The NASW-NYS supports every effort to pay African American mental health workers fairly for their contributions to the field," said Samantha Fletcher, Executive Director, National Association of Social Workers – New York State chapter (NASW-NYS).

"The New York State Council of Churches believes that outsourcing work to private entities greatly diminishes the state's ability to respond to those who suffer and deserve the best care possible. We need well compensated state employees who are invested in the work for the long haul and seek to care for the whole person. We are particularly concerned by a trend at the Office of Mental Health of outsourcing chaplaincy work to part timers while increasingly not replacing full time chaplains as they retire. Pastoral presence on a continual and full-time basis is an essential dimension of quality mental health care," said the Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director, New York State Council of Churches.

Members of the media can access the full report here.

Interviews with the report's authors and mental healthcare professionals can be arranged by request.