NYC mayor instructs city workers to involuntarily hospitalize mentally ill citizens

Eric Adams ordered city staffers to transfer anyone having a mental health problem who refuses to cooperate to the hospital for evaluation.

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams has a new plan to help more people experiencing severe mental illness in the city, including involuntarily hospitalizing mentally ill citizens.

According to ABC7 New York, Adams ordered all city employees, including those in the police, fire, EMS, and health departments, to transfer anyone experiencing a mental health crisis who refuses to cooperate to the hospital for evaluation. 

The mayor described it as a long-term approach to dealing with “individuals with severe mental illnesses” and an urgent adjustment in how officials view their commitment to assisting people needing help.

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a new plan to help more people experiencing severe mental illness in the city, including involuntary hospitalizations. (Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

“A common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent, suicidal or presenting a risk of imminent harm,” Adams said, according to ABC7. “This myth must be put to rest. Going forward, we will make every effort to assist those who are suffering from mental illness and whose illness is endangering them by preventing them from meeting their basic human needs.”

As of Tuesday morning, police have begun receiving improved training for “basic needs” interventions, including engagement tactics to try before “resorting to removal.”

The new guidance explicitly states that it is appropriate to employ this method when individuals appear to be mentally ill and incapable of meeting their fundamental needs.

The city will establish a telephone hotline for police to use when they come across persons experiencing a mental health crisis, receiving real-time access to potential responses to the individuals they encounter. Hospital and health care employees will monitor the phone number, which will be operational by next year.

Police officers will also work in pairs with special intervention teams to help them get people in need to the care they require.

“This is a longstanding and very complex issue,” said NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell, according to ABC7. “And we will continue to work closely with our many partners to ensure that everyone has access to the services they require. This deserves the full support and attention of our collective efforts.”

Though many NYC residents seem to agree and applaud the city’s efforts to help people with severe mental illness, not everyone is pleased with Adams’ new guidance. A spokeswoman for the Coalition for the Homeless said bringing access to high-quality voluntary care and inexpensive, permanent housing should be the mayor’s top priority and that he should also concentrate on fixing the crumbling mental health system.

In a statement, Donna Lieberman, NYCLU’s executive director, criticized the mayor for ignoring New Yorkers’ legal rights and failing to provide the essential funding to address the citywide mental health crisis.

“The federal and state constitutions impose strict limits on the government’s ability to detain people experiencing mental illness — limits that the Mayor’s proposed expansion is likely to violate,” Lieberman said, ABC7 reported. “Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care. Unless we adequately invest in the long-term health and well-being of New Yorkers facing mental illness and our chronic lack of housing, the current mental health crisis will continue.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams believes there are many unanswered questions in Adams’ announcement. He said more information on the administration’s goals, strategies and non-police investment is needed, describing Adams’ approach as one “that continues to center overreliance on police, diminishes the role of health professionals, and de-prioritizes the role of peer support.”

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