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Small NYC mental health ‘clubhouses’ getting squeezed out and crisis may be looming: experts

Rainbow Clubhouse Fountain House Small mental health non-profits are getting pushed out under new Big Apple contracts

Over the past two decades, mentally ill New Yorkers have relied on up to 16 city-funded “clubhouses” — or day centers that connect them with community, art therapy and sometimes jobs.

But come July, nine of the existing clubhouses around the five boroughs will be ineligible for funding because of the Adams administration’s move to consolidate services to 13 larger clubhouses by the fall.

“I, like everybody else, question the move to larger clubhouses,” Joel Corcoran, executive director at Clubhouse International, the accrediting agency for clubhouses, told The Post. “There’s no conclusion that big clubhouses are better.”

The questionable pivot limits access to the $30 million pot to cover the cost of these centers to places that can serve 300 or more members on a daily basis.

“I’ve spoken with (the city) about that and their commitment is to reach more people living with mental illness through accredited clubhouses,” Corcoran said. “Of course we are concerned about the smaller clubhouses that did not receive contracts and the impact for the people who are involved with those.”

The Health Department estimates around 5,000 mentally ill New Yorkers benefit from these clubhouses on a daily basis, and the consolidation to larger community centers will add another 3,750 to clubhouse rosters.

But Corcoran is also puzzled by the city’s ambitious timeline to implement the new contracts.

At least six of the 13 contracts were awarded to providers who did not have a location yet, two people familiar with the contract’s RFP process who asked to remain anonymous told The Post.

“We’re concerned about the implementation because the numbers are so high and the timeframes are so fast,” Corcoran said.

Health commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is working with existing members who will lose their clubhouses.

“We have made a commitment to every organization to support every single member where we can, whether it be things like metro cards or transportation or telecommunications,” Vasan said.

A department source told The Post the health department plans to work with providers to create a roster of active members to “determine how they plan to ensure continuity of engagement.”

Lawrence Fowler, executive director of Rainbow Clubhouse, which boasts an active membership of 150 members and was not awarded a new contract, said some members are suffering from illnesses that do not allow them to easily switch clubhouses.

A department source told The Post the health department plans to work with providers to create a roster of active members to “determine how they plan to ensure continuity of engagement.”

“Inherent in some of those diagnoses are people who are withdrawn, people who are not comfortable in larger spaces and people who are looking to redevelop themselves so they can join a larger community,” Fowler told The Post.

“From a government perspective there may be this notion that bigger is better,” Fowler said.

“But it feels as if they’re removing the community aspect of the clubhouse and they want to build a bunch of mega-houses and put them in a mall-type of environment.”

Several clubhouse advocates told The Post they are concerned Vasan is leaning too much on his past experience at Fountain House, the largest clubhouse provider in the city – where Vasan worked as CEO from September 2019 to January 2022.

At a City Council hearing in March, Vasan denied having anything to do with the request for proposals that was put out by the department last fall. But many clubhouse insiders still blame the commissioner for the city’s newfound focus on large clubhouses at the expense of the smaller ones.

“It’s a conflict of interest,” said Dice Cooper, director of Lifelinks clubhouse in Queens, one of nine smaller clubhouses that did not get its contract renewed.

“They said we have to have more than 300 members. Who benefits from that? Fountain House,” Cooper told The Post. “What (Vasan) fails to realize is that there are 349 clubhouses in the world. Only three have an active membership of more than 300,” Cooper said.

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