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Queens legislators weighed in on how mental health services could be funded in a time of record-tight budgets at the city and state levels during a roundtable discussion Friday hosted by Pride of Judea Community Services in Douglaston.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) joined assembly members Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) and Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) and Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) in listening to the concerns of mental health professionals from Pride of Judea and its parent organization, the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services.
"We know that this is not an easy time," said Paul Levine, associate executive vice president of the board. "We understand it's a balancing act."
Pride of Judea is a full-service outpatient psychiatric clinic serving Queens and part of Nassau counties. The organization is non-sectarian and its services range from individual counseling to group therapy to crisis intervention.
Recently Pride of Judea added a new family therapy program for victims of domestic violence and is planning to extend its existing social therapy club for mentally ill older adults to Sunday.
The mental health agency is also planning to stay open on Sundays to serve the Orthodox Jewish community.
Paula Held Sharf, the organization's director, spoke proudly of the new programs but expressed worry over the ability of the state and city to fund them.
"We have great concern for their well-being in the budget crisis of this year," said Sharf to the assembled legislators. "We ask you to safeguard our treasures."
The politicians vowed to try but could make no guarantees in a budget year that has already seen service cuts and a massive property tax increase.
"Both the city and state are up against a wall," said Padavan, who sits on the Senate's Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee.
In a piece of good news for service providers, Gov. George Pataki's proposed budget provides $65 million this year for 1,000 new beds for the mentally ill statewide, with an additional thousand beds to be funded next year. In the past, additional funding for such facilities have come from localities, developers and social service agencies.
The senator said he would try to get money formerly slated for mental institutions to fund community-based treatment into this year's state budget, as opposed to leaving it for next year as the governor plans to do.
Calling recent proposed hospital shutdowns in the Bronx "a mistake," Padavan promised that facilities in Queens would not close but would have to absorb patients from closed facilities in other boroughs.
The senator also expressed optimism that the state's Medicaid program, which pays for mental health services at Pride of Judea, would get more reimbursement from the federal government beginning in July.
That kind of state and federal assistance was necessary for the city to continue to provide basic services, said Comrie, who urged the mental health community to lobby hard at all levels of government.
"It's time they give us an opportunity to get our fair share," said Comrie of Albany and Washington.
Mark Weprin said community-based mental health services were the "right choice," but added "the last thing the city needs is more unfunded mandates," referring to his belief that the city should not be forced to provide services without being given adequate funding.
David Weprin, chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee, suggested that a commuter tax, federal emergency management money, and Port Authority back rents to the airports could help maintain the status quo in mental health funding from the city.
"We've committed not to do another property tax," said Weprin, who like Comrie told the service providers to "be visible, be out there ... and have your voices heard."
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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