New York City's first lady and top administration officials charged with administering her signature mental health program sought to answer City Council members' questions Tuesday about ThriveNYC.
But still, they left many questions unanswered about how the city is tracking its progress and spending millions of dollars to help New Yorkers in need of mental health care.
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"We're talking about people here, not numbers," Chirlane McCray said during her testimony.
The City Council wanted to see numbers, but McCray said the results of her signature mental health program are still in the works.
"It's important to us to make sure we are measuring everything, and then of course measuring the right things," McCray said. "It's a challenge to measure the relief of anguish and suffering on a spreadsheet."
In the upcoming fiscal year, the city has budgeted $251.8 million for services spread out across a number of different city agencies: $100 million for the Department of Health, $35 million for homeless services, and $29 million for the Department of Education.
But ThriveNYC, officials said, is designed to help close the gaps in the city's existing health services network, not to act as a system of its own.
"Thrive is not a new mental health system," Susan Herman, a senior advisor to the mayor at ThriveNYC, said at the hearing. "We are complementing the work — the good work — that is being done by [NYC] Health + Hospitals."
But McCray's husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, has been describing the program a bit differently.
"There's never been a federal mental health strategy, there's never been a state mental health strategy," he said at an unrelated news conference in Albany. "Until Chirlane came along, there was not a city mental health strategy, there was no effort to create a mental health system."
But data shows the numbers of seriously mentally ill New Yorkers appears to be on the rise, specifically among the homeless population. After they were pressed, officials acknowledged the city is spending more than $30 million in the upcoming fiscal year on this specific population.
McCray acknowledged the growing criticism of the program but said this is only the beginning of her work.
"More communication would be better. People want to work with Thrive to make sure the program is shaped appropriately," she said to members of the news media after the hearing. "We've got a lot more to do."
Despite funding programs to serve the city's seriously mentally ill, officials said Tuesday their approach is focused on prevention and reaching people before they are in crisis. That approach, experts say, leaves some of New York City's most vulnerable at risk.
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