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De Blasio to send mental health professionals on NYC 911 calls

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot program that would send counseling professionals to respond to 911-calls that are associated with mental health emergencies—instead of police officers.


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When there’s a fire in New York City, 911 dispatch sends a team of firefighters. And when there’s a car crash, responders call for a tow truck and an ambulance. When when there’s a 911 call about an unstable individual posing harm to themselves or to others, New York City sends its law enforcement.

But that might not be the case for much longer.

In a statement made by the mayor’s office on Tuesday Morning, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot program that would send counseling professionals to respond to 911-calls that are associated with mental health emergencies—instead of police officers.

Per the current design of the pilot program, law-enforcement officers will not accompany the mental health professional to respond to the call. Instead, crisis workers who are trained in emergency response and crisis aversion will be first on the scene and will then decide if a situation requires backup.

The pilot, which will initially be made up of health professionals and crisis workers from the New York City Fire Department Bureau, will debut in February of 2021. Before being implemented on a larger scale, the pilot is first being tested in two unspecified "high need" precincts.

De Blasio sees this as an initiative designed to more adequately tailor emergency response to the nature of the crisis and prevent conflicts with police.

"One in five New Yorkers struggle with a mental health condition," de Blasio said. "Now, more than ever, we must do everything we can to reach those people before crisis strikes." New York City's first lady Chirlane McCray spoke about the initiative.

Although numbers of emergency mental health cases in the city have been on the decline for the better part of two years, New York still has one of the highest rates mental-health incidents in the country.

The New York State Department of Health reports that medical services receive 650,000 mentally-troubled patients annually. Similarly, hospitalizations for extreme conditions such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder are 9.9 cases above the national average, per findings from the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.

Not everyone believes de Blasio's plan will adequately—or safely—address the needs of a mental-health crisis situation.

Patrick Lynch, President of the Police Benevolent Association in NYC released a response to the Mayor’s announcement, acknowledging the severity of mental health in the city, but voicing concerns that his plan would unnecessarily put people in harm's way.

"Police officers know that we cannot single-handedly solve our city’s mental health disaster, but this plan will not do that either," Lynch said. "It will undoubtedly put our already-overtaxed EMS colleagues in dangerous situations without police support. We need a complete overhaul of the rest of our mental health care system, so that we can help people before they are in crisis, rather than just picking up the pieces afterward."

Where de Blasio’s pilot is a new approach to mental health in New York, it’s not the first of its kind. Similar programs have been undertaken in cities such as Eugene, Ore., Albuquerque, NM, Denver, Colo., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Cali.

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