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For the first time in the city’s history, mental health and medical experts will be the default response to 911 mental health calls in two high-need communities

For the first time in the city’s history, Mayor de Blasio today announced that new Mental Health Teams of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) health professionals and mental health crisis workers will be dispatched through 911 to respond to mental health emergencies in two high-need communities.

“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 Mayor Bill 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.”

"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, said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “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.

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.

Currently, NYPD officers and FDNY Emergency Medical Services Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) respond to nearly all mental health 911 calls, regardless of the severity of health needs, whether a crime is involved, or whether there is an imminent risk of violence. In the health-centered pilot announced today, new Mental Health Teams of health professionals and crisis workers from FDNY Emergency Medical Services will be the default response to mental health emergencies in two high-need precincts

Beginning in February 2021, new Mental Health Teams will use their physical and mental health expertise, and experience in crisis response to de-escalate emergency situations,  will help reduce the number of times police will need to respond to 911 mental health calls in these precincts. These teams will have the expertise to respond to a range of behavioral health problems, such as suicide attempts, substance misuse, and serious mental illness, as well as physical health problems, which can be exacerbated by or mask mental health problems. NYC Health + Hospitals will train and provide ongoing  technical assistance and support. In selecting team members for this program, FDNY will prioritize professionals with significant experience with mental health crises.

In emergency situations involving a weapon or imminent risk of harm, the new Mental Health Teams will respond along with NYPD officers. Over 65% of all operational staff in NYPD patrol precincts across the City have now been trained in Crisis Intervention Team training, a state-of-the-art approach that continues to improve the way officers recognize and respond to behavioral health problems experienced by people they encounter. In all precincts other than the two precincts selected for this pilot, NYPD officers and FDNY Emergency Medical Services EMTs will continue to provide coordinated responses to mental health emergencies.   

The pilot announced today is modeled on successful, alternative to police response programs in other cities. The CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program in Eugene, Oregon is embedded into the 911 system and includes teams of paramedics and crisis workers who have significant experience in the mental health field. Designed as an alternative to police response for non-violent situations, CAHOOTS teams responded to approximately 24,000 calls last year and addressed a wide range of mental health-related crises. In approximately 150 cases, CAHOOTS teams requested police backup. Similar approaches are also being pursued in cities such as Albuquerque, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among others.  

The new health-centered approach builds on significant work undertaken over the last few years to strengthen mental health crisis prevention and response. In partnership with the NYC Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force, the City is reducing the number of mental health crises that result in 911 calls by expanding the number of mental health teams who can intervene before crises occur and stabilize people in the weeks following a crisis. And to ensure those with the most serious needs stay connected to treatment, the City has also expanded intensive, mobile treatment for New Yorkers with serious mental illness. Key accomplishments include:

Improve Response Times for Mobile Crisis Teams

By January, Mobile Crisis Teams will be able to respond to urgent mental health situations within two hours citywide during the day and evening. Mobile Crisis Teams, often dispatched by NYC Well and operated by hospitals and community-based organizations, respond to urgent mental health needs approximately 21,000 times per year, often serving children and adults in their homes. Mobile Crisis Teams can include nurses, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, community liaisons and peers. Services can include assessment, crisis counseling and connection to ongoing services. Through the Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force, the City improved response times of our mobile crisis teams.

Continued Access to Care

Four new intensive mobile treatment teams will continue to provide ongoing, clinical care to New Yorkers with serious mental illness who have been poorly served by more traditional treatment models. Many clients are experiencing homelessness or have recently been involved in the justice system. These teams are effective at helping clients stay connected to care, increasing stability in clients' lives, and reducing homelessness. 

The results of the pilot period will inform how the City responds to mental health emergencies in other neighborhoods. This pilot represents a concerted effort by FDNY, H+H, DOHMH, the NYPD, and the Mayor's Office of ThriveNYC to move towards a more health-centered approach. The Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC will provide programmatic oversight for this pilot.

“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.”

“NYC Health + Hospitals is excited to partner with other City agencies as we continue to meet the needs of New Yorkers experiencing mental health crisis more expediently,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Charles Barron, MD. “Mental health challenges can be extremely sensitive to address and proper training of all professionals is necessary to ensure trust and expert engagement are met into further support services. COVID-19 has proven to be difficult for everyone, with isolation and the anxieties that come with the uncertainty of the pandemic posing new challenges for everyone. No New Yorker should feel alone to navigate feelings of depression, anxieties, thoughts of suicide and more.”

"Bringing mental health support to New Yorkers where and when they need it is at the heart of all of ThriveNYC's work. We are working toward a city where fewer mental health needs become crises, and when mental health needs do become crises, we reach people quickly with the care they need", said Susan Herman, Director of the Mayor's Office of ThriveNYC.  "The pilot announced today is a vital step forward, grounded in New York City's commitment to treat mental health crises as public health issues, not public safety problems." 

Read more about ThriveNYC here.