Reaching Out to Meet the Mental Health Needs of the Aging

There are more than with 3.7 million individuals aged 60 and older in New York State. It’s expected that this number will increase to 4.63 million by 2040. At the same time, the number of older adults with mental illness will increase by 80 percent, to 900,000.

Studies have shown that the community mental health program service penetration rate for adults 65 and older with serious mental illness is far lower than it is for adults age 21 to 64. This means it’s vital that mental health and substance use services are coordinated and tailored to meet their specific needs. New York State is responding by developing partnerships to find innovative ways to provide services to address this issue.

Key to this process has been the Geriatric Mental Health Act. Enacted in 2005, the Act designed to provide for high-quality, integrated services to meet the behavioral health needs of older adults and to prepare for the coming elder boom. The Act established an Interagency Geriatric Mental Health Planning Council to help state agencies collaborate on initiatives to integrate physical and behavioral health care in outpatient clinic settings. In 2008, this body was expanded to include chemical dependence and mental health care for veterans and was renamed the Interagency Geriatric Mental Health and Chemical Dependence Planning Council.

The Act also established the Geriatric Service Demonstration Program to provid­e a means for developing these initiatives. The planning Council makes recommendations for requests for proposals. Grants are administered by OMH in cooperation with the State Office for the Aging, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and other state agencies. The program awards Service Demonstration Grants to providers in the areas of community integration, improving quality of treatment, integrating services, workforce, family support, finance, specialized popu­lations, information clearinghouse, and staff training.

Since the program started in 2007, more than 50 demonstration grants have been awarded. Programs funded through the grants include:

  • The Community Gatekeeper program to identify at-risk older adults in the community who are not connected to the service delivery system. The program helps to connect them with needed behavioral health services and supports.
  • The Bi-Directional Mental Health and Physical Health Integration to integrate physical and behavioral health care in either behavioral health care settings or physical health care settings.
  • The Triple Partnership Program, which is designed to pull together the resources of mental health, substance use disorder, and aging services. OMH selects health providers to establish such partnerships in their communities to help adults age 55 or older whose independence or survival is in jeopardy because of a mental health, substance use, or aging-related concern.


These grants are flexible to allow each provider to design its own program. This way it can use its current resources and relationships in the most efficient and ef­fective manner possible to build a connected network that meet the particular needs of its specific population.

In addition, the Part­nership Innovation for Older Adults program com­bines resources from multiple state agencies and offers training and technical assistance for grantees through the Geriatric Technical Assistance Center, which is currently operated by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

This program awards grants to providers in the areas of community integration, improving quality of treatment, integrating services, workforce, family support, finance, specialized populations, information, and staff training. The goal is to find and offer services to individuals who could possibly end up in an institution because they’re not currently connected with any services, are having difficulty accessing services, or may not even be aware that there are services are out that can help them.

Since the establishment of these programs, more than 15,000 individuals have been screened for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, high body-mass index, high blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, and tobacco use. Eighty-eight percent of those screened were identified at risk for one or more of seven health risk indicators.

The Outcomes Have Been Promising

  • Depression – 61 percent no longer at risk / 78 percent showed improvement
  • Anxiety – 53 percent no longer at risk /74 percent showed improvement
  • Substance Abuse – 40 percent no longer at risk / 82 percent showed improvement
  • BMI – 5 percent no longer at risk / 60 percent showed improvement
  • Blood Pressure – 13 percent no longer at risk / 82 percent showed improvement
  • Fasting Blood Sugar – 19 percent no longer at risk / 49 percent showed improvement
  • Tobacco Use – 13 percent no longer at risk / 15 percent showed improvement

These programs are expected to increase their outreach during the next several years.

As New York State’s lead agency responsible for preventing and treating mental illness, OMH continues to work toward finding innovative ways of providing services that reflect the specific needs of older adults, taking into account their complex, and often chronic, medical conditions; And we always strive to provide culturally competent, coordinated – and most of all – effective care and support to help them live successfully in the community and to avoid institutional placement or readmission into institutional care.

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