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NYC expanding B-Heard mental health teams to parts of Manhattan and South Bronx

NYC's B-Heard mental health initiative expanding to northern Manhattan, South Bronx 02:18

NEW YORK -- A mental health first responder program is being expanded from Harlem to northern Manhattan and the South Bronx.

The initiative, called "B-Heard," uses paramedics and social workers, instead of police, to address mental health emergencies.

But, as CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported Tuesday, critics warn it could be dangerous.

A simulation used for training shows first responders arriving to a domestic violence call between a mother and son. But instead of police, two EMTs and a social worker show up for what's classified as a mental health emergency.

"Our main goal is to give them space to vent and say what they need and to develop trust," FDNY EMT Edward Medina said.

That's why the program is called B-Heard, short for Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance.

First piloted in Harlem last June, it's now expanding to Washington Heights, Inwood and the South Bronx, areas with the highest 911 call volumes.

The teams focus on de-escalation while doing an on-site mental health assessment -- a major difference from police.

"We get trained in a different way than PD does, so while we think about safety we also think about how a person in the moment gets what they need," B-Heard mental health team supervisor Francisco Rivera said.

B-Heard teams do not respond to emergencies involving weapons or other violent incidents.

They can also call police for backup.

But critics warn circumstances can change in a minute, like the deadly shooting of NYPD Dets. Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, who were responding to a domestic violence call in East Harlem in January.

"That could've easily been our team. On each call, I say keep their head on a swivel all of the time," B-Head commanding officer Capt. Ronald Floyd said.

Teams receive safety training and say so far they have not had close calls, adding most incidents are resolved on the scene.

And for those that need more help, they're connected to treatment in the community.

"Very few people have refused to meet with a social worker," said Janine Perazzo, senior director of NYC Health + Hospitals.

It's major shift to treat mental health as a medical crisis, and not a public safety emergency.

Callers who use 911 cannot request a B-Heard team. Dispatchers determine where they are sent based on the description of the incident, location and other criteria.

A new training class for the program graduates on Friday. The expansion of the program will begin in the coming weeks.

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