NYC launches plan to treat mentally ill even without consent

Northeast

(NewsNation) — New York City will allow authorities to take more aggressive action when people are experiencing severe mental illness.

Mayor Eric Adams announced the new policy, which would allow first responders to order someone to be taken to a hospital or psychiatric facility if that person appears to be experiencing a psychiatric breakdown even if they don’t consent.

The mayor’s directive marks the latest attempt to ease a crisis decades in the making. It would give outreach workers, city hospitals and first responders, including police, discretion to involuntarily hospitalize anyone they deem a danger to themselves or unable to care for themselves.

State law generally limits the ability of authorities to force someone into treatment unless they are a danger to themselves, but Adams said it was a “myth” that the law required a person to be behaving in an “outrageously dangerous” or suicidal way before a police officer or medical worker could take action.

First responders will be trained on how to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis, and a hotline will be set up for police to call and consult with medical professionals.

Support for the initiative comes from groups including public defenders who hope the strategy will divert people with mental health issues to treatment rather than jail.

State lawmakers have been considering legislation that would widen diversion programs for the mentally ill, a move supported by public defender groups.

Adams has called for an expansion of the use of 1999’s “Kendra’s Law,” which allows courts to order defendants with mental illness to complete treatment.

The law was named after Kendra Webdale, who died after being pushed onto the subway tracks by a man with a history of mental illness.

But others, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the policy infringes on the rights of the mentally ill.

Critics of the plan say Adams should focus on expanding access to mental health treatment, especially in low-income areas that lack resources.

The mayor said he has begun deploying teams of clinicians and police officers to patrol the busiest subway stations. The city also was rolling out training to police officers and other first responders to help them provide “compassionate care” in situations that could cause the involuntary removal of a person showing signs of mental illness in public places.

“It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past,” Adams said.

A spokesperson for New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the city’s plan builds on mutual efforts to increase capacity at psychiatric hospitals, as well as expand outreach teams in subways.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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