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.