The news is depressing to read. Wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. Climate disasters. A dysfunctional Congress.
If you shake off the gloom, there are things to be grateful for. A daily source of joy and comfort has been our rescue pup, Molly, who we adopted almost one year ago. I’m forever grateful to Muddy Paws Rescue for bringing her into our lives. She’s going to enjoy her first family Thanksgiving, without a doubt. The photo above shows Molly and her Thanksgiving turkey (soon to be stuffing).
Beyond my own family, I’m thankful for things that are making New Yorkers healthier:
1. A largely effective Medicaid renewal program: Earlier this year, I wrote about what’s known as the “Medicaid unwinding” — the rollback of a pandemic-era policy that prohibited states from terminating Medicaid enrollees’ health insurance. The expiration of that policy required that all states begin recertifying all Medicaid beneficiaries earlier this year. It is estimated that at least 2 million children across the country have already lost coverage despite remaining eligible, often because of missing paperwork and errors by states.
New York State is doing a lot better in comparison. This state-by-state tracker from KFF shows that, of New York beneficiaries who’ve needed to redetermine their eligibility to date, two-thirds have successfully renewed their coverage. By comparison, in Texas, only one-third of renewals have been successful. New York is also tracking and sharing its own more detailed monthly data; the latest figures show that 77% of those required to recertify in September enrolled successfully in coverage.
Our relatively strong performance isn’t an accident. New York has been putting tremendous energy and resources into this process through the Keep New York Covered campaign, which includes outreach and navigation assistance to help people understand their options and stay covered. I’m thankful to live in a State that is working to be a national leader in preserving its gains.
2. Overdose prevention centers: Record numbers of New Yorkers are dying of overdoses because of a contaminated drug supply. It’s become almost impossible to ignore; I’ve encountered several people actively overdosing in the subways and ATM vestibules and I’ve done my best to intervene.
New York is the only state in the nation with sanctioned overdose prevention centers, or OPCs; we have sites in both East Harlem and Washington Heights operated by a group called OnPoint NYC. I’ve seen firsthand (and written about) the critical work they do. OPCs are clinical, safe, hygienic spaces where people can use drugs under the supervision of trained professionals to prevent deaths. These centers save lives — more than 1,000 and counting. Equally important, they offer dignity and compassion to the people who use their services, which include medical and social services like free meals, counseling services, and showers.
As the opioid crisis persists, cities and states across the country are clamoring to set up similar sites. OnPoint’s executive director, Sam Rivera, was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2023 for his work. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (part of the National Institutes of Health) recently awarded researchers a $5.8 million grant to study the impact of OPCs. An evaluation published just this week found that the OPCs are not associated with increases in crime.
Yet our OPCs are on shaky ground. New York State’s Opioid Settlement Fund Advisory Board has twice recommended devoting a portion of opioid settlement proceeds to OPCs, but Governor Hochul recently rejected the idea. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York vaguely threatened to shut them down.
I’m thankful for the courage and dedication of the OnPoint team and those who are continuing to reduce the harm of the opioid crisis, save lives, and keep thousands of New Yorkers safe.
3. Healthy school meals for kids: Hungry kids can’t learn, grow, and be healthy. New York State’s 2023–24 budget included an additional $135 million to expand and fund free school meals. Food had been the one arena in public schools that segregated children by family income — but now that’s changing. Providing free meals is a proven strategy to reduce food insecurity, improve mental and physical health, boost academic performance, and increase educational and economic equity.
New York has yet to make schools meals universally free for all children, as some states have done. But we’re getting there: Hunger Solutions New York projects that, by January 2024, an additional 1,100 schools serving 300,000 students in New York will have adopted free breakfast and lunch this school year. That means an estimated 83% of students statewide will have the food they need to be healthy and learn well, regardless of their family income and without stigma and shame. And we’re seeing more attention to ensuring that school meals are appealing, nutritious, and culturally relevant, and that school cafeterias are places where students actually want to hang out and eat. Since the Thanksgiving holiday usually revolves around eating, greater access to healthy school meals is a big win.
From my family to yours (including all 4-legged members), I wish you a healthy and happy start to the holiday season.
By David Sandman, President and CEO, New York Health Foundation
Published in Medium on November 15, 2023