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WHEN YOU NEED TO FILE A COMPLIANT
AGAINST A MENTAL HEALTH CARE PROVIDER OR FACILITY

Most people who go into the mental health professions do so out of a genuine desire to help people. Most mental health care facilities want to provide proper care and treatment for their clients. Unfortunately, a small minority of mental health professionals cross the line into improper behavior. Therapists may be incompetent, commit insurance fraud, or take advantage of the clients who put their trust in them; financially, sexually, or in other ways. Facilities may violate their clients' basic rights or fail to protect them from harm.

If you have a complaint about the care and treatment that you or a friend or family member are receiving for mental illnesses, and you haven't been able to resolve your complaint with your treatment provider or facility, there are several agencies in New York State to which you can turn for assistance. This fact sheet is designed to provide a basic orientation to the oversight bodies that exist in New York State and the types of complaints they handle. A family member or friend may make a complaint on behalf of an individual who is receiving mental health services, even if that person has not been declared legally incompetent. In the case of a minor, his or her parent or guardian must file the complaint.

Complaints About Care in Facilities:

If you have a complaint about care or treatment at a state-operated/licensed facility or program, often the fastest and easiest way to find a resolution is to complain to the facility or care provider first and give them a chance to fix the situation. Bring your concerns to your treatment team first. If they are unable to help, then take the complaint to the facility's administration. All hospitals and almost all other licensed facilities in New York State have a patient grievance or patient complaint process in place. This process may also go by the name of 'quality assurance program' or 'patient relations program' or something similar. Regulations also require that facilities have to respond to complaints in a specified time frame. If the problem is on-going it is often helpful to keep a log of incidents. Keep track of complaints or other actions you've made, including the date of the action, how long it took for someone to get back to you, and what the response was.

If the facility doesn't respond to your satisfaction, or if you do not feel that you can bring your complaint directly to the facility for any reason, you can contact either the New York State Office of Mental Health's (OMH) Customer Relations line at 1-800-597-8481 or the New York State Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (CQCAPD) at 1-800-624-4143 for assistance. The Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS) also offers services and assistance for individuals with complaints about care and treatment, abuse or mistreatment.

CQCAPD and OMH are New York State government agencies which oversee facilities that provide mental health services in New York State. CQCAPD and OMH are able to bring each other in to investigate complaints if necessary, so you can call either one. Both will look into anonymous complaints. CQCAPD also conducts an investigation into the death of any individual who was receiving services from a mental health or mental retardation and developmental disabilities program in New York State, and they investigate programs which are reported to be misusing funds or committing fiscal fraud. CQCAPD and OMH will investigate a mental health professional, but only if that person is providing services in a hospital or clinic setting. To lodge a complaint about an individual in private practice you have to contact The Office of the Professions or The Office of Professional Medical Conduct (see below).

Since CQCAPD also oversees facilities that provide care to people who have mental retardation or developmental disabilities, if you have a complaint involving a person who has mental retardation, or both mental retardation and mental illness, the call should go to CQCAPD.

The Mental Hygiene Legal Service is an agency of the New York State Unified Court System which provides legal services, advice and assistance to persons with mental disabilities (mental illness and mental retardation/developmental disabilities) who are receiving care or alleged to be in need of care at inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities.

MHLS provides attorneys to represent patients in judicial and administrative proceedings concerning involuntary commitment, involuntary treatment, involuntary medication, and guardianship. MHLS also provides advocacy, advice, and representation for patients regarding care and treatment and other matters affecting civil liberties, and will make appropriate referrals for patients who need legal services in matters that fall outside of MHLS's scope.

There is no charge for the services of Mental Hygiene Legal Service, except in the case of guardianships where the court may award a fee at the rate of $30 an hour if the person alleged to be incapacitated is not indigent.

When you are admitted to a facility you are given a Notice of Status and Rights which details your legal rights as a patient and will also include contact information for Mental Hygiene Legal Service. You can also contact MHLS through the MHLS departmental offices:

MHLS Departmental Office

Counties Served

Mental Hygiene Legal Service
First Judicial Department
60 Madison Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10010
(212) 779-1734

Bronx and Manhattan

Mental Hygiene Legal Service
Second Judicial Department
170 Old Country Road
Mineola, NY 11501
(516) 746-4545

Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, Westchester

Mental Hygiene Legal Service
Third Judicial Department
40 Steuben Street, Suite 501
Albany, NY 12207
(518) 474-4453

Albany, Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Clinton, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Madison, Montgomery, Otsego, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Schuyler, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Warren, Washington

Mental Hygiene Legal Service
Fourth Judicial Department
50 East Avenue, Suite 402
Rochester, NY 14604
(585) 530-3050

Allegany, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqau, Erie, Genesee, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Orleans, Oswego, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming, Yates

CQCAPD also offers legal advocacy through the Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program to qualified individuals. For more information about PAIMI services contact the CQCAPD Advocacy Services Bureau at 1-800-624-4143 or visit their Website at http://cqc.ny.gov/advocacy/protection-advocacy-programs/paimi.

The Office of Mental Health publishes two booklets which may be of use, " Rights of Inpatients in New York State Office of Mental Health Psychiatric Centers" and " Rights of Outpatients in all outpatient programs licensed or run by the Office of Mental Health". Copies of these booklets may be downlaoded from the OMH website or ordered through OMH's Customer Relations line, 1-800-597-8481.

Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities puts out laminated business card-sized cards of the Rights of Outpatients and The Rights of Inpatients in English, Spanish, and Creole. You can order copies of these from CQCAPD by calling 1-800-624-4143.

Complaints About Care by Practitioners:

If at all possible, the best first step when a problem arises with a mental health professional is to discuss it with him or her, and give him or her a chance to correct the situation. If the professional fails to address the problem, or if you are unable to discuss the situation with the professional for any reason, you may turn to one of the New York State agencies that handles complaints lodged against certain categories of mental health professionals. In the event of an on-going problem you may want to keep a log of incidents. If the complaint is investigated, the investigators will find your documentation very helpful.

New York State law requires professions whose scope of practice includes psychotherapy services and psychoanalysis to be licensed. These professions are in Medicine, Nursing, Psychology, Social Work, and Mental Health Practitioners in the following areas: Mental Health Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Creative Arts Therapists, and Psychoanalysts. See the website of the Office of the Professions for the complete list of professions at http://www.op.nysed.gov/proflist.htm.

Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Registered Professional Nurses, and psychologists are licensed by the New York State Education Department, Office of the Professions (OP) which also investigates and prosecutes complaints of individuals in these professions. People who are taking prescription medications should note also that pharmacists must be licensed by OP, and OP handles complaints of misconduct by pharmacists.

Complaints against psychiatrists, as well as all other licensed physicians, physician assistants, and specialist assistants, are investigated and prosecuted by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) in the New York State Department of Health.

To file a complaint against a psychologist, social worker, pharmacist, registered professional nurse (or any other of the 44 professions licensed by OP) you will need to fill out a complaint form. You can call the Office of the Profession's complaint hotline at 1-800-442-8106, or e-mail conduct@mail.nysed.gov to request a form or to get more information. You can also print out a complaint form from the Office of the Profession's Website, http://www.op.nysed.gov/opd/complain.htm. Send the completed complaint form directly to the OP regional office nearest you, or fax it to the main professional discipline office at (212) 951-6446. Complaints must be submitted in writing.

The Office of the Professions does not have authority to investigate fees you believe are too high or to intervene in fee disputes. OP can, however, investigate complaints involving fraudulent billing.

Examples of the types of complaints the Office of the Professions investigates include:

  • Revealing personally identifiable client information to others without the client's consent
  • Failing to maintain a treatment record which accurately reflects the evaluation and treatment of the client
  • Working while impaired by alcohol or drugs
  • Insurance fraud
  • Entering into a sexual relationship with a client
  • Overstepping the boundaries of the professional relationship
  • Negligence
  • Physical or verbal abuse of a client
  • Refusing a client or patient service because of race, creed, color, or national origin
  • If the mental health professional has committed a crime against you, e.g. verbal, physical, or sexual assault, harassment, etc. report the incident to the police as well as filing a complaint.

The Office of the Profession's Website, http://www.op.nysed.gov/ has a great deal of information on the range of OP's activities. Two OP brochures that may be of use are "What You Should Know About Psychologists and Their Services" and What You Should Know About Certified Social Workers and Their Services".

The Office of Professional Medical Conduct of the New York State Department of Health investigates and prosecutes complaints of misconduct by psychiatrists. Complaints must also be made in writing. To request a complaint form, or to get more information, you can call 1-800-663-6114 or visit the OPMC Website at http://www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/opmc/main.htm. Your complaint will be kept confidential. To protect your confidentiality, the OPMC does not accept complaints either by fax or e-mail.

The OPMC puts out an informative brochure entitled "How to Choose the Right Physician - How to Tell Us If You Don't". This brochure describes how to research a physician's record before you visit him or her, and it details the process of registering a complaint with the OPMC, what types of complaints they will investigate and what they will not.

To find out if a psychiatrist or psychologist or social worker is licensed to practice in New York State call the Office of the Professions, Division of Professional Licensing Services at (518) 474-3817, or verify professional licenses online at http://www.op.nysed.gov/opsearches.htm. The Division can also provide information on current status of license, schools attended, graduation date, and specialty credentials.

If you have an unresolvable complaint against a mental health professional not licensed or certified by the Office of the Professions, you have the option of taking that person to court in a civil lawsuit. If a mental health professional has committed a crime against you, report it the police.

Mental Health Care and Treatment in Jails and Prisons:

Several agencies accept complaints from inmates who want to lodge a complaint about mental health care and treatment, or lack or treatment, provided in jail or prison.

The Office of Mental Health responds to complaints about mental health treatment and care at New York State prison facilities through the Risk Management office of the Central New York Psychiatric Center. Complaints can be directed to:

Director of Risk Management
Central New York Psychiatric Center
P. O. Box 300
Marcy, NY 13403-0300
(315) 736-8271 ext. 2105


Several agencies are working to improve mental health treatment for inmates in state prison in New York. Inmates, or anyone wishing to file a complaint on an inmate's behalf regarding mental health care and treatment received in state prison may call or write to:

Prisoners' Legal Services of New York
118 Prospect St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 273-2283

The Legal Aid Society, Prisoners' Rights Project
199 Water Street, 6th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10038
(212) 577-3530

Disability Advocates, Inc.
5 Clinton Square, Third Floor
Albany, NY 12207
(518) 432-7861

Inmates in state prison or county jails (not including facilities in New York City) may write a letter to:

NYS Commission of Correction
ATTN: Medical Review Bureau
4 Tower Place
Albany, NY 12203
Complaints must be submitted in writing.

Inmates in a New York City jail may write or call:
Board of Correction, City of New York
51 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
(212) 788-7840

Inmates in county jails can also contact the Director of the Department of Mental Health for the county. The Office of Mental Health has an online directory of all County Mental Health Agencies at http://www.clmhd.org/about/countydirectory.aspx.


Other Situations:

To report an individual for practicing without a license call the Office of the Profession's toll-free hotline 1-800-442-8106.

If you have been committed involuntarily to a New York State-run psychiatric facility it is the policy of the State to bill the patient (or his or her insurance, Medicaid, legal guardian, estate, spouse, etc.), unless the involuntary commitment was made under certain procedures of criminal procedure law. If you want to contest a bill for an involuntary commitment you will need to discuss the matter with the facility.

If you suspect a child you know is being abused at a residence/hospital, call the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Reporting Center hotline at 1-800-342-3720.

The New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) looks for fraud, waste and abuse in New York State’s Medicaid program. If you suspect that fraud, waste or abuse is taking place against New York’s Medicaid program, call the fraud hotline toll free at 1-877-87 FRAUD (1-877-873-7283) to make an anonymous report.

Complaints about health insurance companies can be directed to the New York State Attorney General's Health Care Bureau:

NYS Attorney General’s Office
Health Care Bureau
The Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
(518) 474-8376

See other Information Center Fact Sheets.

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MHANYS 194 WASHINGTON AVE, SUITE 415, ALBANY, NY 12210
ph. 518-434-0439 fax 518-427-8676 info@mhanys.org