FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                           


A proposed 19-Year Exemption is Discriminatory and Underscores an Acceptance of
Inadequate Standards in the Provision of Mental Health Services


Albany (March 16, 2016) – A press conference was held today by The New York State and City chapters of the National Association of Social Workers, the New York Society for Clinical Social Work and the New York State Association of Deans of the Schools of Social Work, to oppose an executive budget and Assembly one house budget bill provision that would extend the exemption of licensure for those providing mental health services in state and local agencies until July 2021.

Ron Bunce, executive director of the New York State Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers said, “We find this protracted exemption unacceptable and discriminatory to the most vulnerable members of society and call for holding agencies accountable this year to the licensing requirement that was rightfully enacted in 2002 to ensure appropriate care for all New Yorkers seeking mental health services. This cannot be put off any longer.”

New Yorkers with private health insurance who need to access their mental health benefits are assured they will receive care from a qualified, licensed provider because only they are reimbursable by insurance companies for the diagnosis and treatment of any mental health need. New Yorkers who rely on programs regulated, operated or funded by the exempt agencies – predominantly the poor and underserved – have no assurance that they will receive care from a licensed provider.

“If we were talking about a heart condition or a broken arm, it would be considered malpractice for an unqualified individual to make a diagnosis,” said Carmel L. Gold, president and CEO, Health Assets Management Inc. “It is critical that every person in need of mental health and child welfare services be diagnosed by a provider who is licensed to diagnose – not just those who can afford better care and not just those who seek care from exempt agencies and who are ‘lucky’ enough to see a licensed provider on their day of diagnosis.”

19 Years to Come into Compliance is Unacceptable and Discriminatory
In 2002, after at least 28 years of negotiation between the Legislature, stakeholder provider groups and trade associations, the practice of social work became one of the state’s licensed professions. In doing so, a minimum standard of education, experience and exam requirements was established to ensure that individuals providing mental health services, specifically the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, were qualified to do so upon the effective date of September 1, 2004.

Just prior to the passage of such legislation, several state agencies noted they would need time beyond the two-year delayed effective date to move their workforces into compliance. They were granted a six-year exemption, until January of 2010, to do so and subsequently they were granted another three years, and then another three years. They have had 14 years to comply and yet they, along with the governor and the Assembly, are recommending another five years, bringing the grand total of time necessary to comply to 19 years. In the meantime, individuals accessing services through one of these many state or not-for-profit agencies may be seeing a qualified mental health practitioner or they may be seeing someone with no more than a high school education.

Exempt agencies currently include any program operated, funded or regulated by:

  • Office of Mental Health (OMH)
  • Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)
  • Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)
  • Office for Children and Family Services (OCFS)
  • Office of the Aging (SOFA)
  • Department of Health (DOH)
  • Department of Corrections and Community Service (DOCCS)

Bunce stated, “We have found agency claims of excessive cost for implementation unfounded. Cost estimates submitted to the state were projected at $60M a few years ago and have now ballooned to $350M per year. There has been no justification for these estimates. We have worked with stakeholders and the Legislature to craft a comprehensive solution, which is reflected in the Senate one house budget bill and contend that enacting such language would allow for full implementation without service disruption or serious fiscal impact. Not-for-profit organizations and healthcare providers who provide similar services have come into compliance and it is time for our state government to stop kicking the can down the road.”

Mary McCarthy, NYS Social Welfare Deans Association secretary, cited the need for agencies to work together to implement a plan to hire or support appropriate educational preparation for employees performing license restricted tasks and ensure all New Yorkers that they are receiving care from qualified professionals, stating, “The NYS Association of Deans of Schools of Social work calls upon both houses of the Legislature to take the steps necessary to end the exemption from social work licensing now. We care deeply about ensuring that all consumers seeking mental health services are seen by a qualified professional social worker, not just those with private insurance. Let us work to ensure adequate preparation for the licensing exam for all graduates and grandparenting into the LMSW for current employees with a social work degree.”

Speaking on behalf of the National Association of Social Workers in New York City, Executive Director Dr. Robert Schachter stated, “Our leadership is unanimous that the time has come for exemptions from complying with the licensing law needs to end. We have examined the concerns of the agencies and we have worked to mitigate them. The proposal to end exemptions addresses this in a very reasonable way.”

Bunce said, “The ongoing practice of allowing state and local agencies to use unlicensed providers to diagnose and treat mental illnesses is, at its core, discriminatory and unfair to our most vulnerable populations – the mentally ill and poor. I represent a field whose primary mission is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty. As an ambassador of such profession, I am gravely concerned.”

Ross McCabe of the New York State Society for Clinical Social Work said, “Without proper education and supervised experience in preparation for clinical licensing, it is unlikely that, given the complexity of mental illness, a cost-effective diagnosis, treatment plan, and appropriate implementation can be delivered. It’s time for these state agencies to come into compliance.”


Author: NASW-NYS