Mental health access in New York

Health Care & Insurance

Across the state, New York communities are struggling to access mental health care, which has only become more difficult amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, hundreds of inpatient psychiatric beds have been eliminated, converted to COVID-related or general medical use, or have been completely taken out of commission. This year, it is estimated that there are fewer than 5,000 adult short-term inpatient psychiatric beds in hospitals across the state, which is 96.5 percent fewer beds than in the 1960s. 

As New York is dealing with a crisis in mental health care, New York Attorney General Letitia James has held in-person public hearings to examine the accessibility of mental health care for New Yorkers with serious mental illness across the state.

Inaccurate and inadequate: Health plans’ provider directories for mental health networks

Why the Attorney General James did this study

Three million New Yorkers live with mental illness. One-third do not get the treatment they need. A major reason is that they cannot find a mental health provider who accepts their insurance. When consumers call providers listed on their health plan’s website, they often find that the information is wrong or that the provider is not accepting new patients. These misleading network directories are known as “ghost networks.”

What the Attorney General James found

To investigate this problem, the Attorney General James conducted a statewide “secret shopper” survey of 13 health plans. Our staff called providers listed on the health plans’ directories as if they were consumers looking for treatment. Out of almost 400 calls, we found that only 14 percent offered an appointment for in-network care. This means that 86 percent of the listed, in-network mental health providers were ghosts: unreachable, not in-network, or not accepting new patients:

Plan Comparison Chart

These results show that mental health care is inaccessible to many New Yorkers and that health plans do not comply with laws that require them to: 

  • have accurate online provider directories
  • have enough in-network providers for members to receive timely care nearby
  • cover mental health treatment the same way as they cover physical health

This harms consumers’ health and costs them more. 

The Attorney General James' recommendations

To make urgently needed mental health care available to patients:

  • Health plans must be required to audit their networks of mental health providers to confirm that people can get timely treatment. Regulators must then post the results on a website so consumers can see how plans are doing.
  • Regulators must vigorously enforce the law, fining health plans that fail to comply.
  • Health plans should actively recruit mental health providers, especially from communities of color. 
  • Health plans must pay higher reimbursement rates to attract additional providers.

To file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office about your health plan’s network of mental health providers, contact the Health Care Bureau helpline: 1-800-428-9071 or file an online complaint form for a health care issue.

New York City public hearing

June 22, 2022

Attorney General Letitia James held an in-person hearing with affected individuals and family members, advocacy groups, health care providers, elected officials, and government agencies about the challenges accessing mental health care in New York.

Western New York public hearing

January 18, 2023

Attorney General Letitia James held an in person hearing with affected individuals and family members, advocacy groups, health care providers, elected officials, and government agencies about the challenges accessing mental health care in New York.

Judy Bassette, Recovery International - Grand Island
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Tracy Bradshaw, Boys & Girls Clubs Collaboration of WNY - Buffalo
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Victoria Brooks, Erie County Medical Center - Buffalo
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Irving Campbell, New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) - Queens
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Frank Cerny, The Rural Outreach Center - East Aurora
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Melinda DuBois, Mental Health Advocates of Western New York - Buffalo
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Shannon Higbee, Recovery Options Made Easy - Gowanda
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Craig Johnson, Consortium of Addiction Services and Supports, Region II, Rochester
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Kimberly Hubert-Bickel, NAMI Buffalo & Erie County / Save the Michaels of the World / Anchoring Hope of NY - Newfane
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Cindy Lee, OLV Human Services - Lackawanna
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Bianca Logan, Young Leaders and Advocates Network - Buffalo
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Patrick Lyons, NYS Public Employees Federation - Albany
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Bridget McNally, Erie County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) - Buffalo
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Elizabeth McPartland, Child & Family Services of Erie County - Buffalo
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Jane Mogavero, Patrick P. Lee Foundation - Williamsville
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Susan Parker, Chautauqua County Legislator - Fredonia
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Mark Polancarz, Erie County Executive
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Harvey Rosenthal, New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services - Albany
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Victoria Ross, WNY Peace Center - Buffalo
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Adam Selon, Restoration Society, Inc. – Buffalo
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Laura Shriver-Brown, Resource Wellness Group - Buffalo
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Vanessa Tirone, Psychological Association of Western New York - Buffalo
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Brandy Tomlinson, Disability Rights New York - Rochester
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Jeff Tomlinson, NYS Occupational Therapy Association - Chester
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Carmen Torres, The Children's Agenda, Parent Leadership Manager -  Rochester
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Todd Vaarwerk, Western New York Independent Living - Buffalo
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Brandy Vandermark-Murray, Horizon Health Services - Buffalo
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Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, Crisis Services - Buffalo
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Denise Amato - Buffalo
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Mary Jo Alessio - Buffalo
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Jada C. Beard, RN at BryLin Hospitals Buffalo - Buffalo
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Murnita Bennett, ECMC - Buffalo
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Jennifer Brinkworth, RN, New York State Nurses Association - Buffalo
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Lawrence Brooks - Buffalo
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Rebecca Butler – Buffalo
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Nysha Camilo - Buffalo
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Linda Cowan - Buffalo
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Kenyani Davis, Community Health Center of Buffalo, INC. - Buffalo
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Diveth Garcia, The Children's Agenda Parent Advocacy Group – Rochester
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Jessica Gilbert - Ellicottville
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Douglas Goldberg – Rochester
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Lisa Guzman - Rochester
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Kathleen A. Hallinan, MD MPH, Corning Guthrie Clinic, Board Certified Internal Medicine, Diplomate Board of Obesity Medicine – Corning
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Brian Hannold - Niagara Falls
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Cara Hudson - Niagara Falls
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Kim Ingles - Warsaw
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Robyn Johnson - Geneva
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Sarah Johnson, Enlightened Earth Hypnosis - Pittsford
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Renee Lueke - East Aurora
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Monica Lynch - Buffalo
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Angel Malavet, Guthrie Clinic - Corning
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Jessica Mason, University at Buffalo - East Amherst
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Chackupurackal Mathai, NYS Behavioral Health Services Advisory Council member – Rochester
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Erin Melfi, 1199 SEIU - Buffalo
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Nico Mitchell - Buffalo
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Mark Mortenson - Lakeview
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Stephen Nawotniak - Lancaster
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Tricia Newton - Hamburg
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Heidi Olsen, Restoration Society - Buffalo
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Ev Reynolds III, Ev Reynolds Contracting - Hamburg
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Barbara Robertsson - Amherst
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Eve Shippens, NAMI - Buffalo
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Stalven Smith, Niagara Wheatfield Central School District – Niagara Falls
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Sandra Sorensen - Ithaca
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Shirley Stanton, CINQ Care/ECMC - Buffalo
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Elisa Tobia, NAMI Finger Lakes - Corning
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Ann Venuto, NAMI Buffalo & Erie County Board Member/Past President - Buffalo
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Lauren Walcutt – Troy
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Chris Weinert - Buffalo
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Nicole White - Rochester
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