Albany’s governor proposed budget eliminates funding for eating disorders in order to keep the focus on obesity and diseases related to obesity.
“In comparison to obesity and diabetes, eating disorders affect relatively few New Yorkers,” said Claudia Hutton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
The governor’s budget will end the $1.7 million annual subsidies to the state’s three eating disorder centers, including $500,000 to Albany Medical Center. The cut would eliminate Albany Med’s entire budget and close the eating disorder program.
“It creates a huge void in the services we’ve been able to develop,” said Dr. Sharon Alger-Mayer, medical director of the Northeast Comprehensive Care Center for Eating Disorders at Albany Med.
The program serves about 2,000 people through outpatient services and 50 people who need to be hospitalized each year at Albany Med for dehydration, malnutrition and organ problems related to eating disorders.
Christie Macfarlane was hospitalized at Albany Med when she was 10 years old. She was transferred to Rochester for more intensive residential services and then returned to Albany where she has received therapy, nutritional advice and medical treatment for five years.
“I don’t know if I would be standing here right now with my 15-year-old daughter thriving if those services hadn’t been there,” said Christie’s mother, Deborah Macfarlane. The Macfarlanes and other families lobbied legislators this week to restore the funding.
“This money is critical,” said Michael Ruslander of Delmar, the father of a teenager who was in dire health because of anorexia. “The treatment my daughter received, as well as the education my wife and I received on how to deal with, communicate and eat with your child who has an eating disorder was invaluable,” Ruslander said. “It’s horrible that you have to go through something like this, but the end result is we came out a better, stronger, more communicative family.” His daughter Molly is now a healthy, successful student at Maria College.
As the state seeks to close a $6.8 billion budget gap, agencies like the DOH are focusing on core issues.
The Department of Health’s mission is safe drinking water, obesity education, childhood vaccinations, investigating disease outbreaks and hospital complaints, Hutton said.
“Those are the kind of things that are the core of public health,” she said. “They are based on what affects most New Yorkers and things that people, frankly, expect somebody to do.”
Looking at the disease statistics, eating disorders trail far behind obesity. Among New Yorkers, 25 percent are obese, nearly 8 percent have diabetes and less than 1 percent suffer from anorexia nervosa.
The eating disorder programs should see *more support from private insurance companies since the state passed “mental health parity” legislation, which requires insurers to pay for mental health services, Hutton said.
* Yea, right! Who’s dreaming now?