When calls about mental health emergencies are received by the city’s 911 call system, police are normally dispatched to the scene regardless of the circumstances.
That is no longer the case in parts of Harlem and East Harlem, where paramedics and social workers are being sent to deal with nonviolent mental health calls in teams of three under a pilot program that began June 6.
“In the first month, what I would say is, over 100 people have been served in a way the city has never served them,” said Susan Herman, Director of the Mayor's Office of Community Mental Health. “And we think this is very promising.”
This week, the city released data from the first month of the program, known as the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, or B-HEARD. About 25% of all mental health 911 calls were routed to B-HEARD teams. And in those instances, people accepted help 95% of the time, up from 82% when police respond.
And only half of those assisted by B-HEARD teams were transported to a hospital, compared to 82% when police respond.
“The first goal is to bring more appropriate care to people faster,” Herman said. “The second goal is to not use our ambulances, our emergency departments, or our police when we don’t need to.”
And while the overwhelming majority of mental health distress calls are still being handled by police officers, the city eventually hopes to drive the percentage down to about half.
The current city budget calls for a $92 million expansion of the program, beginning in late fall. But its ultimate fate will be out of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s hands.
“Whether we go citywide, certainly the next mayor will weigh in on that,” Herman said. “I can’t imagine that either candidate would not be interested in this kind of work.”