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H+H mental-health workers to get debt relief

$1M donation launches student-loan forgiveness program


The city’s public hospital system, which serves more than half of the city's mental-health patients, has launched a student-loan forgiveness program for behavioral health professionals that will provide workers with up to $50,000 in debt relief.

Hospital and city officials hope that NYC Health + Hospitals’ Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program, funded by a $1 million anonymous contribution, will help attract and retain mental-health workers. Psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and clinical social workers are eligible to apply to the debt relief program, which began accepting applications July 25.

Physicians will be eligible for up to $50,000 in student-loan debt relief, while non-physician clinicians can receive a maximum of $30,000 in loan forgiveness. Applicants must commit to working at NYC Health + Hospitals for at least three years full-time; current H+H employees must be working full-time and have satisfactory employee evaluations.

‘A huge price tag'

Adriana Rodriguez-Bosman, who works as a clinical social worker at NYC H+H/Gotham Health’s Roberto Clemente Center, said that she got into her line of work because growing up as a migrant, she saw how trauma and discrimination can break communities.

“You don't become a social worker for the pay. You do it for your dedication and personal mission for the people. We enter this work, knowing that there's a huge price tag that comes with it,” she said during a July 24 press conference at Harlem Hospital. “This announcement is a critical step forward for workers like myself, who have provided support and care to New Yorkers during their roughest times.”

The average psychiatrist has $190,000 in medical school debt, while the average debt for social workers is $68,000, according to data provided by the Mayor’s office.

"Too often, these health-care workers graduate with crippling debt and have no choice but to work in the private sector to pay off their bills,” Mayor Eric Adams said.

Last month, Health + Hospitals’ president and CEO, Mitchell Katz, told news outlet WNYC that hospitals were having a difficult time recruiting psychologists and psychiatrists, who are more easily able to work in telehealth. Combined with the high turnover rates of mental-health professionals, the city’s public-hospital system has “hundreds” of open positions for behavioral health staff, Katz noted.

Demand is up, staff is down

But these shortages are coming at a time when demand for mental-health services is surging, with the pandemic exacerbating needs. About 280,000 New York City residents have a serious mental illness, and as the city’s safety-net hospital system, H+H serves a disproportionate number of those patients.

"To meet the urgent need to support these patients across New York City, our leaders must prioritize investing in recruiting and retaining our mental health professionals," said Judith Cutchin, the president of the New York State Nurses Association's H+H/Mayorals Executive Council. "We urge more healthcare systems to find creative initiatives to build pipelines that bring better jobs to our communities and our public hospitals."

During the July 24 press conference, Katz highlighted that although the city’s public hospitals have about 20 percent of the general hospital beds, “we do 55 percent of the mental-health beds.”

“The other hospitals have pretty much gotten out of the business of doing mental-health services because they can't break even,” he explained. “We, as Health + Hospitals, are a mission-based organization. We do what the community needs. What the community needs is mental health. And with this gift, we will have the professionals to do it.”

The program will run for one year, or until the $1 million donation has been distributed. Adams encouraged New Yorkers to donate to the fund, which he believed would help address the current mental-health crisis.

“Behavioral health concerns can be treated, alcohol and substance use disorders can be treated, and treatments turn lives around,” he said at Harlem Hospital. “Every time we hear of someone who has gone through some form of treatment, how it has turned their lives around, it really shows you the power of our mental-health professionals. It takes people off the street.”

The first round of applications will end Nov. 25. A second round will begin Jan. 1, 2023, and will run until May 1, 2023. Those interested in applying or donating to the program can find out more here: https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/BH4NYC/.



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