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Ortiz: Eating disorder services must be funded

$1.7 million in funding on the chopping block


Photo by Karla Cruz, The Legislative Gazette.
February 08, 2010
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz is calling for the restoration of $1.7 million in funding to the Department of Health budget for a statewide eating disorder services program he helped to create.

The state has been allocating funds each year to three eating disorder treatment networks: the Comprehensive Care Centers for Eating Disorders in western, northeastern and metropolitan New York. The grant for these three networks would be cut completely under Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed 2010-2011 Executive Budget.

"We cannot afford to lose this funding. Losing funding translates to losing lives," said Ortiz, who, along with former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, are given credit for developing the 2004 legislation that formed and funded the treatment networks.

Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, shared the podium during a Feb. 2 press conference in Albany with former patients of the centers and their families. Dr. Mary Tantillo, director of the New York Comprehensive Care Centers for Eating Disorders of Western New York, and Lynn Grefe, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association also spoke at the press conference.

Ortiz said that without the restoration of the grant, the centers would have to close their doors, discharge all patients and dismiss all staff members.

"It's unacceptable, it's unsafe and furthermore I believe it's discriminatory to put some programs above other programs," said Ortiz. "And when you have programs that have been proven to work we are telling [patients] that we cannot give those services anymore. It's unacceptable, and we are not going to take this cut."

Jessica Basset, spokeswoman for the Division of the Budget, said of the proposed cut, "We're not saying this isn't a worthy program; we're not saying it wasn't performing. It's just one of the many reductions and eliminations made across all sections of the budget.

"We've had to make a lot of difficult choices in the face of an ... $8 billion budget gap, and this is one of them," Basset said.

"We have very grave concerns and are alarmed that the proposed budget from the governor's office cuts eating disorder funding by 100 percent," Tantillo said.

She said the centers, aside from the primary focus of providing clinical care, present a national model for innovative specialized health care, and have treated more than 10,000 patients since the centers opened in 2006.

Tantillo said the centers have developed a statewide network for eating-disorder treatment and have improved prevention and early identification efforts that she said greatly decrease the medical costs associated with the treatment of prolonged illness.

She and several speakers at the press conference stressed that the three centers are the only specialized treatment facilities in the state for eating disorders and if they were shut down, patients would have to travel out of state to seek treatment. This is not only expensive, she said, but eating disorder patients need to be treated close to home for continuous care through outpatient services following residential treatment.

Tantillo said in a later interview how the average person does not realize that body dissatisfaction is the strongest predictor of depression and suicide, and there is a strong correlation between substance abuse and eating disorders. Eating disorders are physiologically detrimental, she said, and they are also a psychological and emotional illness.

"I recognize, all of us recognize the economic hardship the state faces right now. But if we have a program that works so well other states wants to copy it, and it saves lives and saves dollars, why would you want to terminate that? You would reverse what it's accomplished. And it's going to mean that the state will spend more money in the end and lose more lives," she said.

Sarah Haviland, a middle school student at Doane Stuart Academy in Albany, testified to the success of the program by sharing her experience with anorexia nervosa as a former residential patient at Harmony Place, which is located in Rochester and is part of the Comprehensive Care Centers for Eating Disorders of Western New York.

"My body is now in a healthy state. I am able to eat without a struggle. I can ride my pony, attend sleepovers and do all the things that a normal 12-year-old girl does. I have my life back thanks to Harmony Place," said Haviland.

The National Eating Disorders Association estimates the fatality rate among individuals suffering from anorexia is 20 percent, but with treatment, that number is reduced to 2 to 3 percent. The organization estimates that 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from eating disorders nationwide.

"Just in the last week and a half, I have spoken with six different parents who have lost their kids to an eating disorder," said Grefe.

She said if the disorder does not end in fatality, there are severe physical health issues that ensue, such as slow heart rate, hip stress fractures, early onset osteoporosis, sterility and dental problems. Other health conditions caused by eating disorders, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, are kidney failure from severe dehydration, muscle loss and weakness, low blood pressure and hair loss.

"This is a pittance," she said. "It's not even really enough, the $1.7 million. The state pays now, or they will pay later, and they will pay much more later."

Ann-Margret Foley, project director of Comprehensive Care Centers for Eating Disorders of Northeastern New York attended the press conference in support of the program.

"The program is definitely in its infancy. We have so many great ideas and plans for the future. We know we can expand the center, and we want to offer other integrative services," she said.

She said program leaders from the centers are planning an advocacy day for Feb. 23 to call on lawmakers to restore the funding and are coordinating meetings with Senate Health Committee Chairman Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and Assemblyman Mental Health Committee Chairman Peter Rivera, D-Bronx and other lawmakers.

  1. print email
    Excellent Article
    February 08, 2010 | 12:48 PM

    As one of the parents that attended and spoke at Assemblyman Ortiz's press conference, I want to thank Ms. Burkins-Gimzek for a well-written, fact based article regarding what took place that day and what the possible ramifications of this funding cut would be.

    Michael Ruslander
  2. print email
    Christina Macfarlane: Healthy New Yorker
    February 09, 2010 | 07:47 PM

    Christina Macfarlane is the fifteen year old girl from Delmar, New York pictured in this article who attended Assemblyman Ortiz's press conference. She is not the sister of Sarah Haviland as indicated in the caption. Christina was hospitalized at age ten in Albany Medical Center with severe complications from anorexia, and then sent to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for more intensive care. Doctors from Comprehensive Centers in both Rochester and Albany have worked in conjunction for the past five years on Christina's treatment. She and her family see continued state funding for the Comprehensive Centers as pivotal in assisting New Yorkers who suffer from this
    illness. She hopes to speak more extensively with legislators on the issue of living in a healthier New York in upcoming weeks.

    Deborah A. Macfarlane
  3. print email
    A concerned mom
    March 01, 2010 | 07:43 PM

    This is a wonderful article and I am so thankful that Assemblymen Ortiz has stepped forward to try to save the lives of the over TEN MILLION Females and ONE MILLION Males that are fighting a life and death battle with this illness. I am the mom of a daughter that has been battling with an eating disorder for many years and had to leave our area because the only partial treatment facility closed its doors without warning right before the holidays (which is the most difficult time for someone with an eating disorder.) Unfortunately, with so little treatment options here in WNY her condition got very severe and she was in the emergency room twice in one week until she decided she wanted help and needed to leave the area in order to find Residential Care. She is there now and I pray every day when she comes home she will be healthy of mind and body and be able to start enjoying her life. Please continue to be the voice for those suffering from an eating disorder as well as their loved ones. Thank you. My husband and I are working hard in WNY to try and raise awareness and the necessary funds to get a treatment facility here so our daughter and the many other sufferers don't have to leave their homes and families. Please feel free to contact me with any additional information on how to make this happen.

    Theresa & Bruce Weinstein
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