NYC’s mental health crisis spans far and wide with few answers in sight
Natalie’s Commentary: Before anything can be said, the question remains why hasn’t the SDNY conducted a full investigation regarding Mayor de Blasio assigning his wife Chirlane McCray to head the new ThriveNYC program in 2015 to help especially the mentally ill, homelessness and now COVID-19 affecting a large population of the poorest communities in Mew York. Nearly $1 trillion has not been accounted for and the programs were never built and implemented.
Chirlane McCray, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, was entrusted in 2015 with running a new initiative in the city called ThriveNYC, a program that attempted to address issues of homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide, all centered around mental health and with a price tag of $250 million per year in tax payer dollars.
Now, four years later, there are serious concerns and calls for official inquiries into the program because no one can determine if it’s actually been successful. What’s more, due to a general opaqueness when it comes to the program’s budget, ThriveNYC has apparently left that nearly $900 million unaccounted for.
A report from Politico back in February gently sounded the alarm — the piece almost apologetically mentioned that Thrive NYC was headed for a “reset” — but calls for transparency have increased in the last week after Thrive was unable in late February to tell City Council members how the money was being spent.
Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who represents parts of Brooklyn including Brighton Beach, said he hasn’t seen ThriveNYC public outreach efforts in his district, and he had a difficult time registering for a mental first-aid training, one of the signature efforts of ThriveNYC.
“With a $250 million budget, I should already be sick of ThriveNYC,” he said. “I have not seen anything.”
Another Council member offered a comparison of what the program’s budget might look like if it was used to address other NYC needs:
On Monday, Island Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) joined the ranks of public officials demanding an accounting of how Thrive’s funding is spent.
Borelli wrote to City Hall asking for Thrive’s performance over the last four years since the program was created in 2015 and for performance data.
“We have just learned that the annual budget for Thrive has increased to $250 million; for perspective, $250 million is the same amount New York City allocated for [the New York City Housing Authority’s] capital needs in fiscal year 2019,” Borelli said. “It’s critically important for all city initiatives to maintain a level of transparency which allows the public to have oversight and allay concerns about government waste especially with tremendous sums.”
Thrive, according to Politico was developed to tackle mental health issues and associated problems that fell outside typical insurance coverage, capitalizing on the debate four years ago over the worth of Obamacare and comprehensive health coverage. ~ Natalie
As New York City appears to near the end of a fearsome 14-month battle against COVID-19, the lingering effects of the virus on our collective mental health endure.
The problem is as complex as the people who suffer, from those grappling with isolation, burnout, depression and anxiety to those who need acute, inpatient psychiatric care for longstanding issues worsened by the pandemic.
Nearly one in every 25 New Yorkers live with a serious mental illness, with around 280,000 adults dealing with diagnoses like major depressive disorder or schizophrenia, city health officials reported last month.
The city’s 311 system recorded over 17,330 calls between March and December 2020 related to mental health issues — nearly 85 times more than the 206 calls recorded during the same time period in 2019, city data shows. Another 5,866 were recorded between January and April 1 of this year.
About 40% of single adults in city shelters say they suffer from a mental illness, according to the Department of Homeless Services. Among city jail inmates 53% of them — 2,965 of about 5,640 total — have repeatedly received mental health treatment, have a known mental health diagnosis, or have attempted suicide during a previous stint behind bars, Correction Department data shows.
The city has worked to address the issue by bolstering its telehealth services and expanding its mobile crisis teams to respond to behavioral health calls. NYC Well, the city’s 24/7 mental health hotline, answered more than 300,000 calls and messages since the start of the pandemic, according to Health Department stats.
The 2022 executive budget also includes $112 million to expand crisis teams’ 911 call response, the allocation of about $50 million in new services for people with serious mental illnesses and $225 million in community-based mental health services at places like shelters and police precincts.
Yet providing people help requires even more resources, said psychiatric nurse Irving Campbell — and one place to start, he said, is with the city’s the most vulnerable.
“For those who have been cascaded by society… and see them where they cannot receive services is really hurtful. It’s disturbing,” said Campbell, a nurse works at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist, which shutdown its psych unit during the pandemic to repurpose beds for COVID-19 patients and remains closed due to construction.
“Telehealth and tele psychiatry are not a replacement for inpatient hospitalization. Those who are suicidal, homicidal, extremely psychotic, they come through the emergency room, they come through NYPD custody, they come to us in their worst state,” he added, noting that he has seen his former patients wandering the streets.
Thirty hospitals statewide have repurposed about 600 psychiatric beds for COVID-19 patients, according to the state Office of Mental Health. All told, the state has 5,815 licensed psychiatric beds, including the 600 not currently being used for psych patients — a decrease of about 30 beds statewide since 2019.
“For myself, my colleagues and other mental health advocates, [we understood closing the units] when were looking at a COVID positivity rate that’s over 10%, [when] every day we were seeing numbers in the 1,000s of people who [needed] hospital beds,” said Campbell. “Some of these beds should [now] be shifted back to provide this vital [psychiatric] service. The number of licensed beds have been decreasing over time… and another concern is many will not return.
“We’re seeing a New York City where everybody who’s vaccinated can take the mask off… And still, we have a lot of mentally ill people in the streets, we have them in the subways, we have them surrounding hospitals,
The subways have seen a spike in the number of homeless people since the overnight shutdown during the pandemic — driving the MTA board last year to formalize emergency rules designed to curtail homeless riders.
While there’s no evidence that people with mental illnesses are committing more crimes, NYPD officials say, an apparent uptick in unprovoked attacks on both the subways and city streets have prompted officials to explore how to address the city’s broader mental health dilemma.
“We’re in lockstep with the union leaders and their request for additional police presence now and additional mental health services,” MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye told 1010 Wins radio after a 12-minute spate of three unprovoked subway slashings and one slugging early Friday.