By Bpb Friedrich
For decades, Creedmoor and its neighbors have lived side by side, in a generally non-contentious relationship. Sadly, over the past year, the relationship has become quite tenuous. Daily occurrences of aggressive panhandling by Creedmoor patients plague the surrounding communities, shopping centers and commercial strips of Union Turnpike. Aggressive panhandling is threatening and dangerous and nearby residents are demanding action.
At my request, a meeting with elected officials, community leaders, NYPD, Office of Mental Health Security, and Creedmoor’s senior administration was held for the first time to address these problems. To date, three meetings have occurred, and steps have been taken to increase NYPD and OMH patrols, but progress has been slow and much more needs to be done. These meetings have been a wake-up call for an institution that, until now, saw its responsibility extending no further than the facility’s front gate.
Over the years, Creedmoor has changed from a facility housing thousands of patients restricted to its vast campus and grounds to one that houses hundreds, who are free to roam in the surrounding communities. OMH shifted responsibility for the care and treatment of these institutionalized patients to a small number of nonprofit organizations housed in Creedmoor’s various buildings. Fully 70 percent of Creedmoor patients are now managed by the various nonprofit organizations operating on the Creedmoor grounds. These nonprofits have been absent from each of the three meetings, although their presence had been requested. They shield themselves from accountability, and tout HIPAA patient confidentiality laws to keep neighboring communities in the dark.
Surprisingly, there is no requirement that wandering patients take their daily medications and there is no behavioral code of conduct protocol conveyed to them. The general lack of accountability by the nonprofits is stunning. Their managers enter the facility gates in the morning and leave at night, rarely stepping foot outside of Creedmoor (except perhaps to have lunch), to see what their patients have wrought on nearby communities.
Aggressive panhandling is rampant. The unsuspecting are accosted daily and often followed by disheveled individuals into a Dunkin’ Donuts or wait outside an ATM to demand money.
Unfortunately, the police are discouraged from enforcing panhandling laws now that the mayor has decriminalized nuisance and other quality-of-life infractions.
Creedmoor officials acknowledge that well-meaning individuals should not give money nor endure menacing shakedowns by patients who live rent-free, receive three meals per day including snacks, plus a weekly monetary stipend paid in part by the very same individuals that are being accosted daily.
Civic leaders who sought to identify why these problems have dramatically worsened over the past year were repeatedly told by Creedmoor administrators that nothing has changed, but much has. Gov. Cuomo prioritized deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill and moving them out of wards and into so-called “transitional housing.”
To accomplish this, OMH simply rebranded its wards as “transitional housing” and redesignated inpatients as “outpatients” although their living arrangements never changed. Making matters worse, Creedmoor managers are evaluated on “deinstitutionalization” progress and the associated cost reductions that follow redesignation. These play-on-words may accomplish the governor’s goal, but they place the surrounding communities and the patients themselves at risk.
Some elected officials view so-called deinstitutionalization as compassionate, but in reality, it is the opposite. Deinstitutionalizing patients by simply changing their designation, which allows them to aimlessly wander our streets without supervision, without their meds and often showing visible signs of distress, is not compassionate at all.
True compassion is restricting these troubled souls to the vast grounds of Creedmoor where they can be properly treated by Creedmoor professionals rather than being sent out beyond the Creedmoor gates to decompensate in public.
Bob Friedrich is President of Glen Oaks Village, a Civic Leader and former City Council Candidate.