Medical Experts, Not NYPD, Will Respond to 911 Mental Health Calls as Part of Pilot – NBC New York

What to Know

  • For the first time in the city’s history, Mayor de Blasio announced Tuesday that the new mental health professionals and crisis workers will be dispatched through 911, instead of the NYPD, to respond to mental health emergencies in two high-need communities — calling the pilot program a “major innovation.”
  • The pilot program for mental health crisis calls — which will begin in two high-need communities in February 2021 — will be comprised of new 911 EMS Mental Health Teams. Each team will consist of EMS health professionals and a mental health crisis worker. The NYPD will no longer default response to non-violent situations related to mental health.
  • Although the pilot will not begin until early next year, the training period has already commenced.

For the first time in the city’s history, Mayor de Blasio announced Tuesday that the new mental health professionals and crisis workers will be the dispatched through 911, instead of the NYPD, to respond to mental health emergencies in two high-need communities — calling the pilot program a “major innovation.”

According to the mayor, the ongoing pandemic “pointed out such horrible disparities that we have to address but it also brought issues to the fore in a new way and nowhere is that more true than on the topic of mental health.”

“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,” 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 for mental health crisis calls — which will begin in two high-need communities in February 2021 — will be comprised of new 911 EMS Mental Health Teams. Each team will consist of EMS health professionals and a mental health crisis worker. The NYPD will no longer default response to non-violent situations related to mental health.

“Early in the new year we will launch new mental health teams that will respond to 911 mental health calls across priority neighborhoods….Today’s announcement is another example of how we continue to transform mental health care in this city,” First Lady Chirlane McCray said. “This is the first time in our history that health professionals will be the default responders to mental health emergencies. Treating mental health crisis as mental health challenges and not public safety ones is the modern and more appropriate approach and that is because most individuals with psychiatric concerns are much more likely to be victims or harm themselves than others.”

According to McCray, of the more than 170,000 mental health calls to 911 in 2019 — an estimated one call every three minutes — the majority concerned people who needed mental health help.

“Our goal overall is to prevent these crises from happening, but when they do, we want to provide better and more compassionate support,” McCray said. “That’s why we have retrained tens of thousands of NYPD officers in crisis intervention, helping them to better recognize signs of emotional distress and how to deescalate tense situations. With these mental health teams, we will test the model where we relieve police officers of those responsibilities, which in many cases, they should have never been asked to shoulder.”

There is a mental health crisis in this country. Here in New York City part of the remedy to this crisis is how we respond to and treat the patients with mental illness.

FDNY First Deputy Commissioner Laura Kavanagh

De Blasio said that the FDNY will be one of the agencies to lead the efforts, alongside Health + Hospitals, NYC Well and the NYPD.

FDNY First Deputy Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said the “new program will greatly improve mental health care for New Yorkers in need. The FDNY takes great pride in helping to lead the way in the mayor’s new initiative.”

“There is a mental health crisis in this country. Here in New York City part of the remedy to this crisis is how we respond to and treat the patients with mental illness,” Kavanagh said.

Although the pilot will not begin until early next year, the training period has already commenced, and while the NYPD will no longer be the default agency to respond to mental health crisis calls, they will be part of the response during certain cases, according to Kavanagh.

“The FDNY is partnering with [NYC Health + Hospitals], NYPD and Thrive NYC. Together we will identify two communities with high levels of 911 mental health calls….The safety of our members and of the public is paramount so in those cases where police are needed to protect lives, they will also be a part of our response,” Kavanagh said. “Over the next few months all five agencies — with input from advocates, community based providers as well as our members in EMS and their union representation — will develop the right protocols, develop training for these new teams and be ready to work on the ground in February. We have a lot of details to work through but I am confident that working together we will ensure strong health centered response to what are truly health emergencies.”

McCray and de Blasio also stressed that although the pilot has not rolled out yet, help is available.

“By acting early we can often prevent a crisis long before it ever happens. So don’t wait,” McCray said. “If you or a loved one notices a troubling change in behavior or warning signs like extreme mood swings, changing in eating or sleeping habits or long-lasting sadness there is support available. Professional help is available anytime of night or day, that’s 24/7 through NYC Well and NYC Care. Guaranteed. No matter what language you speak. It doesn’t matter if you are insured or not insured. No one is turned away. Whether your family is in a moment of crisis or you just need someone to talk to to process these feelings. You are not alone.”

NYC Well can be reached by calling 1-888-NYC-WELL or by texting “WELL” to 65173. New Yorkers can also visit nyc.gov/NYCWELL.

For more information and resources in the tri-state area, see the links below: