‘Severely’ Mentally Ill People in NYC to be Involuntarily Hospitalized

By Matis Glenn

Mayor Eric Adams announces a new pathway forward to address the ongoing crisis of individuals experiencing severe mental illnesses, City Hall. Tuesday, November 29, 2022. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mentally ill people who are not known to pose a risk to themselves or others will be sent to hospitals even if they refuse, under a new policy unveiled today by New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

Adams said at a press conference that the city has a “moral obligation” to help mentally ill people, and that the notion that the government should only intervene in cases where a person poses a risk of harm   is a “myth.” The new guidelines would include anyone “whose illness is endangering them by preventing them from meeting their basic human needs.”

Under the new guidelines, police and first responders would first try to persuade people who are in need of help, but they will not “abandon them if those efforts cannot overcome the person’s unawareness of their own illness.”

“These New Yorkers and hundreds of others like them are in urgent need of treatment, yet often refuse it when offered,” Adams said. “The very nature of their illnesses keeps them from realizing they need intervention and support. Without that intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking. They cycle in and out of hospitals and jails. But New Yorkers rightly expect our city to help them. And help them we will.”

“People living with serious mental illness deserve to live their lives with dignity, respect, and free from discrimination and stigma,” said DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “As a city, this work — at the intersection of public safety and mental illness — represents part of the larger strategy, which is centered on providing everyone living with serious mental illness the basic building blocks of recovery: Health care, a home, and a community.”

Adams gave a few examples of the sort of people to be included in his policy. “The man standing all day on the street across from the building he was evicted from 25 years ago, waiting to be let in. The shadow-boxer on the street corner in Midtown, mumbling to himself as he jabs at an invisible adversary. The unresponsive man unable to get off the train at the end of the line without assistance from our mobile crisis team.”

Adams said that the ability for police to forcibly hospitalize people at will is already in State law, but police are hesitant to act on it, except when a person is violent or poses an immediate risk to themselves or others. The Mayor plans on training police and first responders in “compassionate care,” to determine who needs to be taken into hospitals, as well as the creation of a hotline that police can use to speak with mental health professionals for guidance, but did not elaborate on what exact criteria would be used to make those decisions.

“We can no longer deny the reality that untreated psychosis can be a cruel and all-consuming condition that often requires involuntary intervention, supervised medical treatment, and long-term care,” Adams said. “We will change the culture from the top down and take every action to get care to those who need it.”

Speaking about people who are hospitalized and released after a few days, Adams said that the city needs to ramp up efforts to have long-term care and outpatient resources post-discharge.

“We can’t just stabilize people for a few days and send them back out into the city. We must build a continuum of care that helps patients transition into step-down programs and eventually into supportive housing.”

The plan also includes expanding “Kendra’s Law,” which mandates post-discharge outpatient care for mentally ill people deemed a threat to others or themselves. Adams did not elaborate on what that expansion would entail.

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