Addiction treatment and mental health service providers wrote a letter on Monday to the Department of Health asking for the state to set up free rapid testing for COVID-19 at treatment centers across the state.
“As COVID-19 surged, many addiction facilities responded by doubling as urgent care facilities, which unfortunately increased the risk of exposure to their residents and staff,” the letter states. “Tragically, some from our community died while providing critical care.”
Treatment centers usually house as many as five to a room. However, Ann Marie Foster, who is the CEO and President of the Phoenix Houses of New York and Long Island, says service providers like hers had to reduce their number of treatment beds.
“We’ve had to limit capacity early on and create space so folks would not be in such close quarters,” Foster said. “The result is decreased access to treatment.”
She says rapid testing will allow providers to treat more patients and trace any potential cases.
“Similar to nursing homes, the benefits of on-site COVID-19 testing in addiction treatment centers cannot be overstated,” the letter continues.
Treatment providers also say since the state is temporarily withholding 20% of their funding while it waits for federal aid, fronting extra COVID-19 costs has been difficult.
“We’re being asked to have a three month supply of PPE,” Foster said. “We were kind of late in the beginning of the pandemic to get PPE -- there was a mad scramble for it.”
Around a month ago, advocacy groups also called on the Cuomo administration to release funds to addiction treatment centers.
“Supply shortages are forcing us to ration life-saving supplies,” Emma Fabian, senior director of Harm Reduction at Evergreen Health said during a press conference. “This means that participants are forced to share and reuse supplies. We know that syringe sharing causes HIV and Hepatitis C transmission; we know that reusing supplies can cause irreversible vascular and soft tissue damage.”
The letter, which was addressed to State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and New York City Commissioner of Health Dr. Dave Chokshi, was signed by Foster, Debbian Fletcher-Blake, CEO of Vocational Instruction Project Community Services, Inc, Anne Constantino CEO & President of Horizon Health, Saeeda Dunston, Executive Director of Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities, Inc., and Senator Pete Harckham.
“Now is not the time to withhold from our program,” Forster said. “Coronavirus care is addiction care…the people we serve are so vulnerable. We can’t leave this population out.”