City health officials make the case for Adams’ mental health plan

Last week, Mayor Eric Adams announced a new plan to involuntarily hospitalize some New Yorkers in severe mental crisis.

Not everyone has agreed with Adams’ plan. A group of mental health advocates filed an emergency request to halt the roll out of the new plan.

The group said the policy is not workable due to a concern over the number of hospital beds available.

According to the city, the plan is a work in progress amid mounting questions over implementation.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan and Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of the city’s health and hospitals system, joined Errol Louis on “Inside City Hall” Thursday to talk about the new initiative.

When asked about involuntary hospitalization, Katz explained the goal is that first responders won’t walk by when they see somebody who’s dealing with a mental health crisis.

“We’re not going to just walk by anymore, but what we’re going to do is to bring them to a hospital, where they’re going to do is bring them to a hospital where they’re going to get a full evaluation,” he said. “And if they don’t meet the full standard for hospitalization, then they’re not going to be hospitalized.”

“There’s nothing the mayor has done that in any way changes the rules about involuntary hospitalization,” Katz continued.

Katz said voluntary services are the first thing offered to those with mental health issues.

“Many people have been brought in from the subway system by offering them a safe haven bed, by talking to them about other activities and ways to help,” he said. “But there’s a small group of people whose mental illness doesn’t give them the insight to see how they’re being harmed by their life.”

Vasan added that the plan is applied to a small set of individuals who are in “extreme need.”

“It’s impossible to do a good clinical evaluation on the street or a moving train or a subway platform. A safe, dignified clinical environment is the best place to do that, and that’s all this is,” he said, adding that the policy is based on an existing state mental hygiene law.

According to Katz, there’s about 3,500 individuals in the city who are homeless and on the streets and possibly 1,000 of them have a mental illness. He said from that 1,000, there would be a much smaller number of individuals who may be “distressed.”

“Obviously, the number of people who need services, as Dr. Vasan has talked about, is much larger,” he said. “This initiative, though, is just the small group.”

When asked how to make sure a person is professional and effectively evaluated, Vasan said the key issue is training.

“We need to ensure that everyone’s getting the adequate training and support,” he said, adding that they developed new training with the state Office of Mental Health. 

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