Press Release

To Strengthen Public Safety, Gillibrand And Goldman Visit Fountain House To Announce Bill To Support People Living With Serious Mental Illness

Aug 1, 2023

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Dan Goldman (D-NY-10) stood at Fountain House to announce their Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act to provide urgently needed mental health support to the 14 million adults in the U.S. living with a serious mental illness (SMI), such as schizophrenia, bipolar illness, and major depressive disorder. Too many individuals living with SMI get stuck in a devastating cycle moving between hospitals, jails, and housing instability due to lack of access to community-based treatment. In 2021, over 1/3 of individuals with SMI did not receive any form of mental health treatment. In New York City, a number of subway deaths have highlighted the need for access to intense and immediate mental health support. This bill would create a new package of services under Medicaid targeted specifically to individuals living with SMI, set a national standard for SMI care, and incentivize states to provide intensive community-based services to treat SMI.

They were joined by Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY-12); State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal; Assemblymember Tony Simone; NYC Council Member Erik Bottcher; Fountain House Chief Executive Officer Ken Zimmerman; Shane Howze, brother of slain Rashaun Howze; New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services’ Public Policy Director Luke Sikinyi; University Settlement’s Associate Executive Director for Mental Health and Wellness Mary Adams, Director of Community Wellness Initiatives Barbara DiGangi, and Senior Grants Officer Emily Oppenheimer; UA3’s Executive Director Chi Loek and Co-Founding Member Kin Wah Lee; and Chinatown Partnership Executive Director Wellington Chen.

People living with serious mental illnesses need treatment and resources in order to lead healthy, full lives,” said Senator Gillibrand. “New Yorkers have seen firsthand the devastating impact of untreated mental illness in our communities and we must do more to support everyone in our state. Community-based services for adults with SMI, like the services offered at Fountain House, have a proven track record of helping individuals thrive in their own homes and communities. I’m proud to stand with Congressman Goldman to introduce the Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act to help provide comprehensive care to adults living with SMI.”

“Every American deserves access to affordable, high-quality mental health care, and it is unconscionable that so many of those with serious mental illness are unable to get the help they need,” Congressman Dan Goldman said. “It is imperative that we strengthen Medicaid to ensure that we are protecting the most vulnerable among us through community based mental health services. Supporting those living with serious mental illnesses is an obligation we have to guarantee adequate care for every one of our neighbors.”

“Everyone deserves high quality, accessible, and affordable health care— including those seeking care for serious mental illnesses,” said Congressman Nadler. “With nearly a third of adults living with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder going without any treatment, it is essential we strengthen Medicaid to ensure adults struggling with serious mental illnesses have access to a variety of community-based services.”

“One in twenty adults experience a serious mental illness — and yet many don’t have access to resources they need to seek treatment. Especially following a nearly three-year long pandemic, we desperately need to address this crisis from a federal level. I applaud Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Goldman for introducing comprehensive legislation to provide our most vulnerable Americans with everything from intensive case management to housing services.”State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-WFP, Manhattan).

“Tackling the mental health crisis requires focus and action from all levels of government,” said Assemblymember Tony Simone. “The tragic results of severe untreated mental illness is witnessed by New Yorkers everyday on our streets. This legislation will enable New York to provide greater care through Medicaid and help our unhoused neighbors find care and stability in their lives. I am grateful to Senator Gillibrand & Congressman Goldman for leading on this crucial challenge.”

“We must address the crisis the severe mental health crisis that has engulfed our country. This requires utilizing every tool at our disposal from every level of government. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Goldman for carrying the Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act and I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to advocate for its passage. We have an obligation to do all we can for those suffering with serious mental illness and this act takes a significant step forward in addressing this issue,“ said Council Member Erik Bottcher.

“We applaud Senator Gillibrand and Representative Goldman for their leadership on the introduction of the ‘Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act’ and thank them for recognizing Fountain House and the clubhouse model by being here with us today,” said Ken Zimmerman, CEO of Fountain House. “To help make recovery and thriving core to how our nation supports and recognizes the 14 million people living with serious mental illness (SMI, we must prioritize dignity, agency, and community as fundamental building blocks. This bill is a significant step toward a more person-centered, holistic, and proven approach to mental healthcare in the US by focusing on and investing in targeted supports that help people with SMI thrive.”

“I think that there’s a person behind the mental illness. Often we only see the news where this mentally ill person committed a crime — they pushed somebody in front of the train. But if we provide the proper treatment channels for individuals who suffer from SMI, it is proven that the treatment works.” -Shane Howze, MS Ed, CTRS, Director of Therapeutic Recreation & Behavioral Health Service New Vista Behavioral Management, Nursing & Rehab.

“New York and the rest of the nation has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people with serious mental health challenges who are not connected to services. While many have criminalized us by pushing for more policing, forced treatment, hospitalization, and increased institutionalization, few have focused on improving historically underfunded community-based supports to help people safely live in their communities of choice. We are happy to support the “Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act” because it will help states provide the intensive community services needed to address the growing mental health crisis. Included programs such as peer support, mobile crisis intervention teams, and housing services have been proven to reduce costly hospitalization, improve recovery outcomes, and save taxpayers money. We are grateful to Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Goldman for addressing what is fundamentally a public health crisis with a genuine public health response.” -Luke Sikinyi, New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services Public Policy Director.

“It’s critical that we view emotional well-being as a human right and reflect on the ways our systems are either promoting wellness or perpetuating unhealthy cycles. The Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act will be a step forward in challenging the status quo and creating a more compassionate, impactful, and healing-centered response to mental health needs. As we’ve seen in the murders of Jordan Neely and Raul de la Cruz, the status quo has proven to be dangerous and harmful, especially for our BIPOC neighbors. Ensuring equitable mental healthcare is a matter of social justice that must no longer be delayed. With a robust mental health continuum at University Settlement, we’ve seen the power of community-based mental health services; it increases engagement and consistency with services, prevents cycles of hospitalization and system-involvement, increases feelings of connection, and creates sustainable impact. This is because peers and mental health professionals, not police, are the most equipped to provide effective support and promote healing. We applaud Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Goldman for their leadership in reimagining what mental healthcare could look like in our country, and we look forward to being partners in achieving this vision. –Barbara DiGangi, Director of Community Wellness Initiatives of University Settlement.

“At our Community First Food Pantry, UA3 frequently serves and encounters people who struggle with obvious mental health conditions. When they act in a particularly disturbed manner, our volunteers and clients worry about these individuals as well as everyone’s safety. This Act will bolster comprehensive community support to people with serious mental illness by offering a package of holistic treatments and social services that will allow them to remain in their familiar surroundings and heal among their neighbors.” –Chi Loek, Executive Director of AU3.

“The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law strongly supports the “Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act,” a critical improvement to the Medicaid program. The legislation, introduced on the 24th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C. (Lois Curtis), will incentivize states to provide a robust array of intensive community-based services for adults with mental health disabilities. These services—including Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), housing-related services, supported employment, peer support services, and mobile crisis services–have been proven to help individuals with disabilities live successfully in their own homes and communities. The services help people avoid unnecessary institutionalization in hospitals and other facilities, which under Olmstead constitutes disability-based discrimination. This bill will help states comply with their legal obligations and save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise pay for costly institutional care. The Bazelon Center is very grateful to Senator Gillibrand and Representative Goldman for taking this action to meet the huge unmet need across the country for intensive community mental health services. We look forward to working with them to help this important bill become law.” –Holly O’Donnell, President & CEO, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

“The National Health Law Program wholeheartedly supports the Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act. Nearly one-third of adults with serious mental illness go without any treatment. This legislation will provide incentives to states, encouraging them to offer intensive and high-quality services that have a proven track record. On the occasion of Olmstead’s anniversary, we are particularly pleased with the efforts made by Senator Gillibrand’s office in showcasing a path forward to ensure that individuals with serious mental health illnesses have the necessary services and supports to live and thrive within their communities. The National Health Law Program takes pride in having contributed to the shaping of this bill and ensuring that its policies align with the needs of those who rely on Medicaid for health care. We call on the members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to pass the Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act.” -National Health Law Program.

Specifically, the Strengthening Medicaid for Serious Mental Illness Act would:

  • Create a new waiver program granting Medicaid authority to provide states with an option to offer a package of services targeted specifically to individuals with SMI. The package would include:
    • Assertive community treatment, an evidence-based, highly individualized team-based service designed to support adults with the most intensive mental health needs;
    • Supported employment to help individuals get and keep a job;
    • Peer support services from individuals who have lived or living experiences with mental health conditions;
    • Mobile crisis intervention teams that can help de-escalate situations and link individuals to other community-based services;
    • Intensive case management; and
    • Housing-related activities and services to support individuals with transitioning to and maintaining housing.
  • Require states to adhere to certain standards, like tracking disparities in treatment, to ensure services are delivered with care to all in need.
  • Create a tiered Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) increase to incentivize states to provide intensive community-based services to individuals with SMI. This means that states could receive an increase up to 25% in funds allocated by the federal government for their Medicaid programs.

For the bill text, please click here.