Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams responded to Mayor Bill de Blasio's recently announced pilot program for mental health crisis response today, challenging the administration to provide more clarity and details for the design and implementation of the program.
In a letter to the Mayor, the Public Advocate calls the announcement "a meaningful step in the right direction," but points to his own 2019 report, 'Improving New York City's Responses to Individuals in Mental Health Crisis,' as a blueprint to effectively prioritize and facilitate a non-police response to mental health crises. While the Mayor's pilot program appears to adopt some of the recommendations in the report, such as a 2-hour response time and a default to non-police response, there are several areas in which they differ. In distinction to the Mayor's pilot announcement, the Public Advocate's report calls for, among other things:
- A memorable three digit alternative number to 9-1-1, meant for NYC-WELL calls
- Expanded training for NYC-WELL operators and staffing for mobile crisis response
- Minimal engagement with policing, the criminal justice system, or hospitalization
- Directly combining acute emergency response with long-term sustained care
- Collaboration with community organizations and mental health peers in both designing the system and responding to crises
- Culturally competent community outreach and public information campaigns, especially as related to race and language fluency
The Public Advocate also sought further information from the administration about the implementation of the Mayor's pilot program, including how 9-1-1 operators will be trained to distinguish between police and non-police health emergencies, the makeup of crisis response teams, cultural competency in response, and the level of follow-up and post-crisis engagement. He asks that advocates largely left out of the original announcement process be included in both the planning and implementation of the program moving forward.
The full letter to the Mayor is below and can be downloaded here, and the Public Advocate's 2019 report is available online. A visual summary of the plan can be found here.
Dear Mayor de Blasio:
I would like to thank you for supporting several recommendations that my office released in a September 2019 report on improving responses to mental health crises. Your announcement is a meaningful step in the right direction, though I believe it is important to implement such important changes in collaboration with pending legislation from the City Council. It remains vital that we keep racial equity at the forefront of these efforts.
Additionally, while we strive to reduce the criminalization of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, we must also avoid needless hospitalization whenever possible. I believe this pilot can be made safer, more effective, and more just, by implementing additional recommendations from my office's report and infographic, which I have attached for your review.
I would also like to seek clarity with the following questions:
- How will we train 9-1-1 to identify calls that do not need police response and make appropriate dispatch determinations by February 2021? What criteria will dispatchers be using to make these determinations, especially in regard to those concerning when a police officer is or is not to join the health professionals as part of the response team?
- What will client follow-up and post-crisis services look like? Will there be connections provided to services such as Mental Health Respite Centers, Support and Connection Centers, and long term care?
- Will we equip mobile crisis teams with a clinician, a social worker, and a mental health peer as their primary responders?
- How will we ensure cultural competence amongst mobile crisis teams and within community outreach and public information campaigns to ensure awareness of this resource?
- Who will be advising the development of this pilot? Will community-based organizations, advocates, and elected officials be included?
I look forward to receiving your response as we work together to make our city a safer and more just place. Please direct any questions or further discussion toward First Deputy Public Advocate Nick E. Smith, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Deputy Public Advocate for Justice, Health Equity & Safety Rama Issa-Ibrahim at email@example.com
Jumaane D. Williams
Public Advocate for the City of New York