ALBANY – As the families of those killed in Buffalo by a hate-filled, disturbed young man continue to grieve, Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, called on his legislative colleagues to pass a bipartisan measure he sponsors with Senator Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, that would strengthen the state’s mental health intervention efforts.
“The warning signs that the Buffalo shooter was unbalanced and potentially dangerous were there. His erratic behavior included wearing a hazmat suit to school and comments that he wanted to commit a murder-suicide. There were likely many other signs as well that have not yet come to light,” Borrello said. “This is a situation that is becoming all too familiar. Deeply troubled individuals continue to fall through the cracks of the system, with tragic consequences.”
Savino introduced, with Borrello as a co-sponsor, S.8508/A.9669 in the Senate while Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, D-Bayside, introduced companion legislation in the Assembly. Titled the New York State Mental Health Reform Act, the legislation would amend the Mental Health Law to state care and treatment in a hospital shall be considered essential to a person’s welfare if, in the absence of such care and treatment, the person’s illness is likely to result in serious harm. Such language would allow courts to better consider the best type of treatment and decrease what Savino and Borrello termed a “revolving door of sporadic, inconsequential short-term treatment.”
The Mental Health Reform Act would also add a clearer definition of the phrase “likely to result in serious harm” so courts can determine if a person’s mental state results in interference with the person’s ability to meet their needs for clothing, food, shelter or medical care. A clearer definition of the phrase “need for retention” would allow for more consistent treatment, Savino wrote, and allow doctors to consider the effect of discharging a person from care before the right treatment is established.
Borrello pointed to the killing of two New York Police Department officers, the murder of a New York City woman after a man pushed her in front of a subway train or the murder of 10 people by Payton Gendron in Buffalo as examples of why the state’s approach to mental health must chanage.
“What may have made the difference in these cases was effective mental health intervention for the perpetrators, who all had histories and/or symptoms of serious mental illness. Tragically, there is no way to turn back the clock. However, what we can do is strengthen our mental health intervention tools, to reduce the future risks of another devastating incident. Continuing to ignore the problem only ensures there will continue to be tragedies that may have been prevented.” While none of us can know for certain what would or would not have prevented this horrific and brutal attack, what we can almost guarantee is that unless we strengthen our state’s mental health interventions and resources, there will be more senseless tragedies and loss of life,” Borrello said. “While most individuals with mental illness are not violent, just one dangerously ill person can cause mass calamity and death, as we know all too well. Our proposal deserves to be part of any comprehensive plan aimed at closing the myriad gaps in our mental health laws. The system’s failures and consequences have been worsening in recent years, which makes it imperative that we act now.”