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Major step backward feared in eating disorders services

February 10, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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State funding for three comprehensive care centers in N.Y. could be eliminated

Comprehensive treatment for eating disorders never has garnered much in the way of public funding support, so news that an infusion of state money for three care centers in New York state could soon be cut off is frustrating a number of advocates.

“People always assume that insurance covers these services, but we’re still fighting that fight,” says Lynn Grefe, a New Yorker who is CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association in Seattle. “It was a major step to get this funding in New York. I don’t know of any other state that did this.”

Legislation sponsored about five years ago by Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz of Brooklyn set aside $1.7 million to establish three “Comprehensive Care Centers for Eating Disorders” in New York City, Albany and Rochester. The funding allowed service providers that might have been providing one or two levels of service in the past to compete for an opportunity to offer a continuum of residential, outpatient, family support and prevention services.

Ortiz says his interest in the topic grew out of contact with the family of an adolescent in his district who had been diagnosed with an eating disorder but could not find services. Now he says he is fighting to preserve a program that has given other families a local alternative to having to access treatment out of state. Ortiz’s office says the proposed state budget calls for the elimination of the $1.7 million in funding and refers to the funding as not essential to the overall mission of the state Department of Health.

“I hope to be able to restore this, or in the alternative to ask for a surcharge on alcohol that would cover the $1.7 million,” Ortiz says.

Grefe says that as a New Yorker she bragged all the time about what her home state was able to accomplish in recent years with public funding. Now, against the backdrop of National Eating Disorders Week Feb. 21-27, she finds herself pointing to the traditional underfunding of eating disorders services amid the constant discussion of budget shortfalls.

“There were hospital-based programs in New York in the past, but New York did not have a residential treatment program before this,” Grefe says.

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