New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced an initiative that would give the city more leeway to involuntarily hospitalize severely mentally ill people on the city's subways and streets, even if they do not appear to pose an immediate danger to others.
"My administration is determined to do more to assist people with mental illness, especially those with untreated psychotic disorders, posing a risk of harm to themselves, even if they are not an imminent threat to the public," Adams said Tuesday. "It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past. For too long, there has been a gray area where policy, law and accountability have not been clear and this has allowed people in need to slip through the cracks."
Adams, a former police officer, said the city will be training Emergency Medical Services staff and other medical personnel to "ensure compassionate care." He said the policy he's proposing "explicitly states" when it is appropriate to use this process to hospitalize a person suffering from mental illness even if they do not want to go.
While emergency personnel already have the ability to involuntarily hospitalize those suffering from mental illness in certain limited circumstances, patients are often released after a few days when the immediate danger appears to be over.
Adams said he believed the law should "require hospital evaluators to consider not just how the person is acting at the moment of evaluation but also their treatment history, recent behavior in the community, and whether they are ready to adhere to outpatient treatment." He said he will work to have a new "basic needs" standard for involuntary admission written into state law.
But the city has a shortage of psychiatric hospital beds, a situation exacerbated amid the, which hit public hospitals particularly hard. Adams did not provide specifics for how he planned to increase the availability of beds at the city hospitals.
The mayor's announcement was met with caution by civil rights groups and advocates for the homeless,.
A coalition of community groups, including the Legal Aid Society and several community-based defender services, said the mayor was correct in noting "decades of dysfunction" in mental health care. They urged state lawmakers to address the crisis and approve legislation that would offer treatment, not jail, for people with mental health issues.
Growing concerns about crime, and several released a report earlier this month saying the city had not undertaken enough efforts to help those suffering from mental illness. But Williams said in a press release about the report, "the answer is not additional policing nor involving law enforcement in the City's mental health response."
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