“NYC Will Hospitalize Mentally Ill People Involuntarily” made headlines over Mayor Adams’ new directive to fulfill what he called a “moral obligation” to forcibly bring in New Yorkers who appear seriously ill mentally ill and unable to care for themselves in hospitals for evaluations by a doctor, usually a psychiatrist.
But that’s not something NYC will do. That’s what the cops have done before.
People struggling with their own demons and often oblivious to their mental state are legally, though often violently, taken away without their consent by armed state agents and thrown into hospitals where they are supposed to be released under the New York State law after no more than 72 hours if stabilized.
That person strength also be assessed by a psychiatrist for Assisted Outpatient Treatment or AOT, a court order requiring them to take medication under the Kendra Law of 1999, named after a young journalist who was pushed on the way to a train to Chelsea by a young man who’d sought treatment but was refused.
There are two things that are more or less new in Adams’ approach.
First, he puts his name behind what some cops (many of whom haven’t yet been trained to deal with emotionally disturbed people, and nearly all of whom dread EDP calls) are already doing, just as he put his voice behind the cruel encampment of homeless sweeps the city routinely carried out under the previous administration with barely a glance from Mayor de Blasio.
(Notably, both of these movements appear to be far more popular with the public than they are with headline writers, with 60% of New York voters in a June poll in favor of encampment sweeps and a a staggering 89% in favor of “making it easier to admit those who are dangerous to the public, or themselves, to mental health facilities.
The two positions overlap, of course, given how difficult it can be for cops, advocates, or the general public to distinguish between the overlapping populations of seriously mentally ill, drug addicted, and homeless people. shelter, and given that both movements involve forcing vulnerable people to leave. the streets even when there are no rooms or support beds to put them in.)
The other thing that’s fairly new is the mayor trumpeting a memo from the state Office of Mental Hygiene issued in February to “authorize the dismissal of a person who appears to be mentally ill and who displays an inability to meet basic life needs, even when no recent unsafe acts have been observed.
This was a fairly low-key attempt to expand or test what the relevant section of state law actually says: that officers “may take into custody any person who appears to be ill with mental health and behaves in a manner likely to cause serious harm to the person or to others”.
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He goes on to explicitly define this “manner” as threats or attempts of suicide, homicide or serious physical harm.
Indeed, the state and city now argue circularly (and cautiously, given upcoming legal challenges and against the plain language of the law) that a seriously mentally ill person’s obvious inability to care for herself – someone who is sloppy, not wearing shoes and shadowboxing, to use an example provided by Adams – “is susceptible to serious injury”.
And the city argues it can’t wait for more state support to improve the mental health system or provide funding for expensive long-term solutions like extra psychiatric beds or supportive housing units to start doing more for — and about — severely too often, mentally ill New Yorkers are simply left to fend for themselves.
Stabilizing and screening people with more serious mental illnesses in hospitals is a partial plan at best, full of diabolical details. It comes with numerous demands for changes to state laws that will test the balance of power between, to put it bluntly, Adams as a centrist offering proposals widely popular with New Yorkers and progressives in far left who represent the will of the Democratic caucus in Albany and who shot down many of the mayor’s priorities this year, after he had just won the election and should have had the most political clout.
“Look, if we’re just going to leave people on the streets who need medical attention because we don’t have the beds and we don’t have the services, then we should at least be honest enough to say that it’s is why we’re dropping them,” Brian Stettin, the city hall’s senior adviser on serious mental illness who helped craft the new approach and who drafted Kendra’s law as deputy attorney general, told me. a quarter century ago, on the FAQ NYC podcast on Friday.
“We must not hide behind this false excuse that we cannot help them because the law does not allow it.”
Sigel (email@example.com) is an editor at The City and a columnist at the Daily News.
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