New York City to Send Mental Health Professionals to Respond to 911 Calls

NEW YORK -
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability in City Hall on November 9, 2020. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

New York City will dispatch social workers and medical professionals to respond to 911 calls about people with mental illness, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at his Tuesday press conference.

The new Mental Health Teams will be part of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and sent to emergencies involving someone who is suffering from a mental health crisis and may be a danger to themselves or others.

“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,” said de Blasio. “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.”

As of now, police officers and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) respond to 911 calls, whether the emergency is criminal or medical. The new pilot program would have medical professionals and crisis experts be the ones answering a call about mental health emergencies in two city precincts. The teams will be prepared to deal with any situations involving addiction and mental-illness induced health dangers. If there is a risk of violence, the teams will be accompanied by police officers. The police officers will have been trained in crisis intervention, and how to respond to someone in the throes of mental illness.

“Emergencies are not all the same and the skills needed to respond vary as well,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi. “Expanding the role of mental health in emergency services means that people with urgent behavioral health needs can quickly get appropriate and effective help from trained health professionals.”

The new pilot is modeled on similar, successful programs in Oregon, California, and Canada.