The New York Mental Crisis Team continues to grow despite sliding backwards

A program aimed at improving the city’s response to mental health emergencies has fallen back since its initial launch, with response times slowing, more people being sent to hospitals and more police involvement in cases.

The programme, the Behavioral Health Emergency Response Division, or B-HEARD, was intended to reduce friction in crisis situations by sending trained professionals instead of policemen.

But advocates say the unit’s effectiveness has eroded since its launch in 2021, citing longer response times, fewer calls directed to B-HEARD and more people being sent to hospitals, according to a Correct Crisis Intervention Today (CCIT-NYC) review of reports. previously .

the program continues to expand. demand for Mental health emergency response teams are high The pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems, reduced resources, and cut people off from critical lifelines.

“It really worries me that they are adding different police districts and areas to respond to B-HEARD, when they are not doing a great job responding in existing areas,” said Jordyn Rosenthal, advocacy coordinator for Community Outreach, a nonprofit organization for New Yorkers who struggle with Mental health challenges.

Ruth Lowenkron, director of the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said she had “anticipated problems” from the start of the program, and was disappointed to see the metrics decline during the pilot’s first year.

“We’re really bothered by the data that’s going in the wrong direction,” Lowenkron said. “This is truly the kiss of death.

“We help about 15% of people in a few small areas for a few hours a day. I don’t think anyone should be proud of this statistic.”

The program is part of the city’s efforts to address Police violence and systematic racism by providing Alternatives to traditional law enforcement responses To emergency calls involving issues such as mental health or drug and alcohol crises – send teams of FDNY EMTs, paramedics, and social workers at New York City Health + Hospitals instead.

The program was launched in East Harlem in June 2021.

In March 2022, the pilot extended to Washington Heights, Inwood and parts of the South Bronx. In June 2022, two police stations were added in the South Bronx. In October 2022, the program expanded to include the rest of the South Bronx, eastern New York and Brownsville, and now covers a total of 15 districts.

“The fact that it’s going under the radar and that they keep expanding — it’s annoying. Because they’re not held accountable for those outcomes and the success of the program,” Rosenthal said.

While advocates criticize the program’s progress, there are indications that it has had a positive impact: When these teams respond to a crisis, more people accept care than the NYPD’s traditional response, and fewer people are sent to the hospital, she shows. data .

“They are making progress. They are treating people who could use this help,” said Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2057, the union that represents FDNY EMTs, paramedics and fire inspectors.

“It may not be as common as people want it to be. But any time you avoid getting an ambulance to take someone to a facility when it is not necessary, and they can be treated by a caseworker or mental health condition professional, at the scene, this is a success. , whether it’s 1% or 100%.”

During the first year of the program, the average response time gradually increased, from 13 minutes 41 seconds at the beginning of the year to more than 18 minutes by the end, according to the data.

Barzilai said Employment issues may be to blame.

“Often, we run a lot of units because we don’t have bodies to fill,” Barzilai said. It is a perpetual problem that the city does not wish to address. …people leave that job as quickly as they get into the job.”

The program also remained lagging behind its original goals in terms of the volume of mental health emergency calls it would respond to. Mayor de Blasio initially stated that when the program is running, B-HEARD teams will handle 70% of 911 mental health calls. Later, this target was dropped, first to 60%, then 50%.

According to the most recent data, 911 dispatchers made 22% to 25% of mental health calls to B-HEARD during the first year of the program.

A spokesperson from the mayor’s office of community mental health declined to comment on the revised program goals, but said that B-HEARD is working to increase that percentage by recruiting more EMS call recipients, enforcing new protocols and training patrol officers and EMS field units on B-hearing.

Even working with a small portion of the initially hoped-for emergency mental health calls, it has become difficult for B-HEARD to keep up.

Of calls directed to the program, B-HEARD teams responded to an average of 82% of mental health calls directed to them by 911 dispatchers in the first six months of the program. But by the end of March 2022, teams were responding at a rate of 68% of calls. When B-HEARD is unable to respond, calls are returned to the cops.

Another measure of concern is referrals to hospital.

B-HEARD also referred 46% of people to hospitals in the first six months of the program. This number increased to about 58% by June 2022. Hospitalization is seen as a less favorable outcome for those with a mental health emergency, as emergency departments are often not fully equipped to deal with mental health crises.

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