New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan and Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health (OCMH) director Eva Wong discussed “The Care, Community, Action: A Mental Health Plan for NYC” at a media roundtable last week. The plan has been heavily criticized as inhumane since it was first introduced last year, but Vasan reports promising results.
The end of the COVID public health emergency by the federal government is set for May, and the city has the “lowest rates of transmission” of the virus variants since 2021, said Vasan.
Vasan said he’s proud of the work to date because it’s meeting the current moment. “Coming out of the worst public health crisis in a century [and] facing up to the second health crisis, one thing I know is that the closer we are to trauma and the collective trauma that we face during COVID, the farther away we are from knowing what its impacts will truly be long-term,” Vasan said.
The plan centers on moving populations with the most need—meaning children and youth, homeless individuals, people at risk of addiction and overdose, and people with serious mental illnesses—off the streets and into clinical settings.
Young people are demonstrating rates of unprecedented mental health needs and alarming rates of suicidal thoughts, in particular among Black girls and LGBTQ youth, said Vasan. To help stem that wave, the city is gearing up to launch a huge telehealth initiative aimed at youth who need mental health services.
There’s also an emphasis on subway safety and community engagement to change the tide for everyday New Yorkers who live on the street.
Vasan said the process of taking someone in for care is an “extraordinarily difficult circumstance” and an equally difficult decision for clinicians and teams on the ground. However, teams are following Mayor Eric Adams’s lead on not walking past people in need of care.
“This has to be about breaking the cycle at some point,” said Vasan.
Vasan said that the city is collecting data about these individuals and does track where they are taken when removed from the streets or subways. They also track whether these admittances are voluntary.
“I know the focus was on the involuntary component of this, but we’re getting to the result we intended, which is that voluntarily, our outreach is leading to more people choosing not to be [on the streets], not to live outside of a warm, safe place to stay,” said Vasan.
Wong said that she has observed how the mental health teams carry out directives and interact with people to ensure that care is taken.
“We want to make sure we have enough data for it to be meaningful and in the coming months, we will,” said Wong.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.
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