Mental health exec on how community groups can reach New Yorkers before they’re in crisis

In The Media

April 13, 2023
CEO Jody Rudin answers the biggest questions on the state of mental health care in New York City with Crain’s New York Business.

Jody Rudin has loved ones who have experienced mental illness. As such, she has always been determined to ensure her loved ones know they’re not alone in their experiences. That determination has poured into her role as executive director of the Institute for Community Living, which she has been in since 2021. The organization serves upwards of 13,000 people per year and 3,500 New Yorkers sleep in an ICL facility each night through the organization’s housing programs. This year the institute is seeking to expand its services, which is particularly important given that mental health crises have been on the rise among New Yorkers–and a frequent topic of discussion among the city’s leaders. As mental health issues are on the forefront of every New Yorker’s life, Rudin is looking to help stem the stigma surrounding them.

How would you describe the state of mental health care in the city?

We have a fragmented system of care. There are some really strong programs for people who are experiencing mental health challenges that are trauma-informed and person-centered. But there are way too many points along the process or within the system of care where people get lost, particularly when they move in and out of other systems like jails or hospitals. So we need to build on the things that are working so that we can serve more people and so that people don’t fall through the cracks.

At the Institute for Community Living, what were your priorities in making sure more New Yorkers had access to mental health care last year?

We’ve been really trying to pivot in learning some of the lessons of the pandemic. Mental illness and mental health challenges are so very much more on the forefront in all of our lives—who doesn’t have a personal experience at this point? We’ve been trying to seize on this opportunity to help to reduce the stigma and lean in and support the people we serve.

What would you say is the biggest challenge your industry faces?

Workforce issues. At ICL we have a 25% vacancy rate, and we’re no different than our colleagues providing services in the field. There is a challenge to recruiting and retaining people to do this work.

What is stopping mental health providers from paying their workers competitively?

We are largely government funded. So we need to receive cost-of-living increases from our funders. The state had implemented a 5.4% [increase] last year, which was great. And there’s a lot of current advocacy to get an 8.5% cost of living increase in both the city and state budgets, and that needs to happen. And then I think there are broader strategic discussions about how we value these jobs more in society, and how we incentivize people to go to school for social work and to go into these professions.

What is a solution to the low health insurance reimbursement rates that your industry is subject to?

We do have a handful of programs that have not performed well financially through the pandemic largely because of staff shortages. And so if you don’t have social workers and nurse practitioners and doctors on staff to see patients and to bill and generate revenue, that creates a real finance [challenge] but also creates a service challenge. It’s a problem, and it goes back to the workforce and needing to figure out how to hire enough staff to meet the need out there and the demand for the services but also to be in a position to have the program be financially viable.

What are the mental health services New Yorkers need most?

We as a society have never made good on the promise that followed deinstitutionalization where we moved people into the community and promised a continuum of care. And so I think that’s everything from clinics to mobile treatment teams to more inpatient hospital beds, and ultimately to permanent, affordable and supportive housing. We at ICL have seen intensive mobile treatment teams, and assertive community treatment teams, be particularly effective at helping people who would otherwise fall through the cracks because the teams go out looking for individuals and find them wherever they are. So investment in mobile treatment is certainly a wise investment. Ultimately, you need to be able to offer permanent stability, and that’s in the form of supportive housing.

Read via Crain’s New York Business

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