Matthew Cohen, MSW

Matthew Cohen, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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NY’s SAFE Act: Mental Health Reporting Requirement

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NASW NYS has issued this statement concerning the NY Safe Act, its implications for practicing social workers, and an important message on license protection for social workers in New York.

As we collectively continue to process the tragic event in Newtown, CT and look for real solutions to the issue of gun violence, we understand and appreciate Governor Cuomo’s urge to take decisive steps toward preventing a future event of this nature from becoming reality. However, the swift passage of NY’s SAFE Act of 2013 has perhaps generated more questions and concerns than it has offered us comprehensive solutions to the issues that contribute to the problem of gun violence.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers are among the mental health professionals specifically designated in NY’s SAFE Act as being required to report to local mental health officials when there is reason to believe a patient is likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to themselves for the purpose of crosschecking the individual’s name against the new comprehensive gun registration database. If the individual possesses a gun, the license will be suspended and law enforcement will be authorized to remove the person’s firearm (or the individual may be prevented from obtaining one in the future). This change is currently scheduled to take effect on March 16, 2013 which is 60 days from the date the legislation was signed into law.

The SAFE Act also amends Kendra’s Law (which authorizes assisted out-patient mental health treatment) by, among other provisions, extending its effective date for an additional two years- through 2017. It increases the period of mandatory outpatient treatment from 6 months to one year. In addition an assisted out-patient treatment assessment will be required before a mentally ill inmate is released from state prison. The SAFE Act raises concerns regarding patient confidentiality with regard to their mental health treatment, the potential for creating additional deterrents to seeking critical mental health services by

those in need of care, promoting the criminalization of persons with mental illness, and the need for greater clarity on the responsibilities and reporting requirements for designated mental health professionals.

NASW-NYS is in consultation with the NASW General Counsel’s office and the NASW Assurance Services Inc with regard to the nature and scope of impact this legislation will have on providers and their practice liability. As regulations are promulgated for implementation of this legislation we will address any issues as they emerge and will keep our membership informed on the issue as it unfolds. We are hopeful and will advocate that this legislation ultimately strikes a balance between meeting the obligations to protect the public’s safety while not creating any deterrents to accessing critical mental health care, preserving patient confidentiality to the degree possible and addressing the long term impact on the lives and recovery of those who may be subject to the law.

What is of particular concern to us is the potential for the intent of the mental health reporting requirement to be undermined by the permanent exemption for employees of state regulated, operated or funded agencies from compliance with the social work licensure law which is included in the Governor’s proposed budget. Implementation of such an exemption would apply to a vast number of individuals providing mental health care, who because of their unlicensed status would not be directly subject to the SAFE Act’s reporting requirement. At a time when the competency and qualifications of mental health providers are most crucial, the Governor has proposed a broad based exemption of such requirements; a move that is at odds with his earlier commitment to strengthening the mental health service delivery system. Fulfilling the SAFE Act’s intent to support a safer NY can only be possible through the use of license qualified mental health professionals.

** Submitted to SJS by NASW NYS **

FInd more info on NASW NYS, NY Safe Act, and social work licensee protection in New York @

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