The program to improve the city’s response to mental health emergencies has gone backwards since its initial launch with shorter response times, more hospitals and increased police involvement.
The program, the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division (B-HEARD), aimed to reduce friction in emergencies by sending trained professionals instead of cops.
However, supporters say the unit’s effectiveness has eroded since its launch in 2021, citing longer response times, fewer calls going to B-HEARD and more people being sent to hospitals, according to a review of previously published reports as part of proper crisis intervention (CCIT-NYC). .
The program continues to develop. Demand for mental health emergency teams is high – the pandemic has worsened mental health problems, reduced resources and cut people off key emergency lines.
“I really worry that they are adding different police stations and areas to respond to B-HEARD when they are not really doing a great job of responding to the current areas,” said Jordyn Rosenthal, Community Access Advocacy Coordinator. a non-profit organization for New Yorkers with mental health problems.
Ruth Lowenkron, director of the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said she had “anticipated the problems” from the beginning of the program and was disappointed to see that indicators deteriorated during the first year of the pilot program.
“We are really concerned that the data is going in the wrong direction,” Lowenkron said. “It’s really the kiss of d*ath.
“We help around 15% of people in a few small areas for several hours a day. I don’t think anyone should be proud of these statistics. “
The program is part of the city’s efforts to counter police violence and systemic racism by providing alternatives to traditional law enforcement responses to emergency calls for issues such as mental health or drug and alcohol crises – sending FDNY EMT teams and paramedics and New York City Health + Instead, hospitals of social workers.
The program was launched in East Harlem in June 2021.
In March 2022, the pilot expanded to Washington Heights, Inwood, and parts of the South Bronx. In June 2022, two more police stations were added in the South Bronx. In October 2022, the program expanded to the rest of the South Bronx and eastern New York and Brownsville, now covering a total of 15 boroughs.
“The fact that it’s under the radar, and they’re still expanding, is embarrassing. Because they are not held accountable for these results and the success of the program, ”said Rosenthal.
While supporters of the program are critical of the program’s progress, there are signs that it has had a positive impact: when these teams respond to the crisis, more people accept care than with the traditional New York Police response, and fewer people go to hospital, the data show.
“They are making progress. They treat people who might benefit from this help, ”said Oren Barzilay, chairman of Unit 2057, the union that represents paramedics, paramedics and the FDNY fire inspectors.
“It may not be as popular as people want it to be. But any time you avoid an ambulance that will drive someone to the facility when it is not necessary, and can be treated by a social or mental health guardian on site, it is a success, whether it is 1% or not. or 100% “.
According to the data, during the first year of the program, the mean response time gradually increased, from 13 minutes and 41 seconds at the beginning of the year to over 18 minutes at the end of the year.
Barzilay said staff problems might be to blame.
“Many times we destroy many units because we don’t have bodies to fill them up,” said Barzilay. “And this is an eternal problem that the city does not want to deal with. … People leave this job as soon as they take it up. “
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The program also remained outside of its original goals of the number of mental health alert reports it would respond to. Mayor de Blasio initially stated that while the program was operational, B-HEARD teams would have handled 70% of the 911 mental health reports. Later this target was lowered, first to 60% and then to 50%.
According to the latest data, 911 dispatchers managed 22% to 25% of mental health calls to B-HEARD during the first year of the program.
A spokesman for the mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health declined to comment on the revised goals for the program, but said B-HEARD is working to increase that percentage by allocating more EMS callers, enforcing new protocols, and training EMS patrol officers and field units on B-SŁYSZAŁ .
Even working with the smaller fraction of the mental health emergency calls they initially hoped for, B-HEARD finds it increasingly difficult to keep up.
Of the calls directed to the program, B-HEARD teams responded on an average of 82% of the mental health calls made to them by 911 dispatchers during the first six months of the program. However, by the end of March 2022, teams responded on average to 68% of calls. When B-HEARD is unable to answer, the calls go back to the cops.
Another indicator that has caused concern is referrals to the hospital.
B-HEARD also referred 46% of people to hospitals during the first six months of the program. This figure has risen to around 58% by June 2022. Hospitalization is seen as a less preferred outcome for people with a mental health emergency as emergency departments are often not fully equipped to deal with mental emergencies.
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