New York City is creating new mental health teams to respond to emergency mental health calls instead of police, as part of a pilot program that will launch next year.
The teams will have EMS health workers and mental health crisis workers in them. They will be dispatched through the city’s 911 system and police officers would be dispatched as backup in cases where a subject has a weapon or is threatening violence.
More than 170,000 mental health calls were made to the city’s 911 call center last year. That’s estimated to be one call every three minutes. Chirlane McCray, the city’s first lady said the majority of calls were “people who just needed help.” The mental health teams will be deployed in February in two high-need communities that have been hard hit by Covid-19 (the communities were not identified).
The Mayor said in a statement, “One in five New Yorkers struggle with a mental health condition. Now, more than ever, we must do everything we can to reach those people before crisis strikes, for the first time in our city’s history, health responders will be the default responders for a person in crisis, making sure those struggling with mental illness receive the help they need.”
“[This plan] will undoubtedly put our already-overtaxed EMS colleagues in dangerous situations without police support,” the statement said. “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.”