NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City is launching a pilot program to have health responders - and not police - respond to 911 mental health calls.
The 911 EMS mental health teams will consist of EMS health professionals and mental health crisis workers.
"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," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "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."
The pilot program is set to begin in two high-need communities in February 2021.
First Lady Chirlane McCray, the leader of the initiative, said there are 170,000 such 911 calls annually and one call every three minutes.
"The most innovative breakthroughs in mental health services are often the result of multi-agency partnership, and today marks a new chapter in how the City responds to New Yorkers who are experiencing mental health crises," McCray said. "This is the first time in our history that health professionals will be the default responders to mental health emergencies, an approach that is more compassionate and effective for better long term outcomes."
Officials say the overall number of mental health 911 calls fell by over 8,000 in 2019, the first decline following a decade in which 911 mental health calls increased every year and in every precinct in the city. This decline, which has continued into 2020, follows a concerted effort to strengthen how the City prevents and responds to mental health crises, including the introduction of new mobile intervention and treatment teams over the last several years.
NYC Health and hospitals will help train the new Mental Health Teams and provide ongoing case conferencing.
She explained how they want to take the burden off officers having to report to these cases. The NYPD will no longer be the default response to non-violent situations related to mental health.
"Police officers know that we cannot single-handedly solve our city's mental health disaster, but this plan will not do that, either," PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. "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. On that front, the de Blasio administration has done nothing but waste time and money with ThriveNYC and similar programs. We have no confidence that this long-delayed plan will produce any better results."
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also shared his thoughts about the initiative via Twitter.
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