With the announcement of a new pilot program, people suffering from mental health emergencies in two New York City neighborhoods will receive help from mental health and crisis professionals when they dial 911.
Not from police officers.
Depending on your point of view, perhaps not, but it is a significant move on the part of the city to attempt to deescalate encounters between people with mental health challenges and police.
Currently, police and EMTs In New York City respond to nearly all 911 mental health calls even when violence is not an issue.
The pilot program, which will begin in February, was announced this week. Under its guidelines, mental health teams will be created through the Fire Department’s EMS unit and will work in two “high-need” neighborhoods, according to a Reuters story on the announcement.
New York is not the first city to attempt to shift its response to mental health related emergencies and, according to Reuters, has modeled its program after one being used in Eugene, Oregon.
But the size of the city and the attention it gets may help the program, if successful, to spread more quickly to other communities.
Some cities, like New Bedford, already send mental health professionals with police officers when available to respond to related calls. Having only mental health workers respond is one more step toward creating better outcomes and reducing stigma.
It means more people will receive direct assistance from knowledgeable and trained mental health professionals when they are in crisis and is definitely a program for Southcoast communities to watch.