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NYC’s mental health call response pilot shows promise but is still hampered by police involvement

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31.07.2021

This story was originally published at Prism.

Earlier this spring, New York City launched B-HEARD (Behavioral Health Emergency Assistant Response Division), a program where licensed physical and mental health professionals respond to certain mental health emergency calls instead of the police. The program recently released its first month of data showing some significant areas of success, with more people receiving the emergency mental health assistance they needed, fewer hospital transports that might force people to incur heavy medical expenses, and increased follow-up care.

But alongside the positive statistics, the data also solidified some concerns that mental health advocates raised immediately prior to the program’s launch: that dispatchers have too much discretion in choosing to deploy police instead of B-HEARD, and that the teams themselves may not be robust enough to meet the vast needs of those living in the community.

As reported by Prism, the city piloted B-HEARD in Zone 7, three precincts across East Harlem and parts of Central Harlem that have historically produced a high volume of mental health related 911 calls. The program aims to “increase connection to community-based care, reduce unnecessary transports to hospitals, and reduce unnecessary use of police resources,” and so far has made strides toward those goals

There are currently two sets of B-HEARD teams working eight-hour shifts, with teams rotating two shifts per day. While the current data shows several areas of success for the program, it does suggest the need for more teams to be made available. Although B-HEARD teams responded to 80% of calls routed to them, the NYPD responded to the remaining 20% because B-HEARD teams were busy responding to another call. Given that roughly 500 mental health-related calls were made during the pilot’s first........

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