December 7, 2022
Dan Mannarino: 7:32 right now, aggressive and ambitious, those are the words being used to describe Mayor Eric Adams's new plan to tackle the city's mental health crisis.
Hazel Sanchez: So first responders and outreach teams now have the authority to involuntarily hospitalize New Yorkers suffering from mental illness. The critics say the plan is too broad and they're calling on the mayor to provide more specifics. So Mayor Adams is joining us this morning to discuss his plan in more detail. So good morning, Mr. Mayor. Thanks so much for being with us.
Mayor Eric Adams: Good morning. Good to see both of you.
Sanchez: All right. Well, there's a lot of legal issues that can come across with involuntarily committing someone, so it's a very subjective decision. Are there specific parameters then in place that first responders must follow before taking this step?
Mayor Adams: Well, I think it's so important that we point out what you stated at the top of the show, to involuntarily remove those who are suffering from mental health illnesses. That is not true. There's a very small specific group of people that we gave a clarity to our officers, to our mental health professionals, to our EMS and professionals, those who cannot take care of their basic needs and they are a danger to themselves. That is the group we're talking about. Not because someone is walking around with no shoes on or talking to themselves, that does not fit the criteria, but it does mean we are going to still speak to those people and attempt to give them the needs that they deserve, but the law is clear. If you fall into the line that you can't take care of your basic needs and you are in danger to yourself and others, those are the groups that we are talking about that this new clarity is correcting. And that's a big difference from what people have been saying.
Mannarino: Yeah. So Mr. Mayor, then can you clarify that even further? So how do police, EMS, and clinicians determine who is somebody who cannot take care of themselves? What is the determining factor here and the criteria for that?
Mayor Adams: Well first, everyone leads this conversation off with police. That is not the lead on this. And no matter how much we say it, we keep saying it over and over again.
Mannarino: But they're part of it.
Mayor Adams: Right, when they are needed. What we have been doing already, this administration started with mental health professionals partnering with police. And after we realized what was happening, we said, okay, now let's evolve to the next level based on what we've learned. And listen, if people are saying, those professionals are saying that it is okay to have status quo of leaving people on the street who can't meet their basic needs and is a danger to themselves, that's inhumane. That is not the city that I'm going to be the mayor in and we're not going to continue the status quo. These officers, these mental health professionals, the entire team is going to receive specific training, but most importantly, they're going to get the clarity that they deserve because that clarity was not there before.
Mannarino: Right, but can you help us understand, again... I don't mean to push back on the question, but what is the determining factor for someone who cannot take care of themself?
Mayor Adams: Well, it is a host of things and it's not a one size fits all scenario. And that's why my mental health professionals put this together. I'm not a mental health professional. I went to them with the problem, we did an observation over the last 11 months, and they came up with this is how we move to the next level. Now the person who is the author of this is the same person who was the author of Kendra's Law. So we have professionals that are part of this conversation and they're putting together the training to make sure our professionals know what the law allows us to do. And we think we need to do more with the law, and that's why we have a legislative package that we are going to take to Albany.
Sanchez: Are you prepared, though, to deal with possible lawsuits for false imprisonment?
Mayor Adams: Yes. We're not going to false imprison anyone. That's not the goal here. And I think those... First of all, change is difficult. We all know that, but then the buzz terms that we're using of forcing people, arresting people, that is not what this is doing. It is saying what all New Yorkers are saying, we can't have people living in this inhumane manner that they can't take care of their basic needs and we're not going to allow that status quo to continue in the city and we're going to do it in a humane fashion.
Mayor Adams: And those who are advocating for people to stay on the streets when we clearly see that they can't take care of their basic needs and they have real mental health issues, if we continue to walk past that, that's not the status quo, that's inhumane.
Mannarino: On the hospital component to this, across the board, as we know right now, hospitals are beginning to get overwhelmed with cases of COVID, flu, and RSV cases. So when you talk about this mental health policy, where are the additional beds coming from to house more patients? And do have a number in mind of how many people actually may enter the system because of this?
Mayor Adams: No, I do not have a number in mind. Those scenarios are changing every day. We see it. You see it. I'm sure you see it, and I know you're doing your job asking me the questions, but I know that in your heart you are putting two thumbs up. You're saying, "Eric, we are reporting it every day. We see it every day. This is inhumane." So what we must do, because you're right, this is how this problem sort of aggravated itself, during COVID we lost a number of psychiatric beds. I stood with nurses’ associations and others to talk about we needed to open more beds. Now we have to start thinking differently. And that is some of the things that we are doing.
There's a whole package that Dr. Vasan, and my Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is going to be rolling out that is going to complement this. This is not the end all. We need to be clear on this. There are other components to what we are doing about the continuation of care to deal with this problem that we've punted for far too long. And I'm just not going to punt it. I'm going to meet it face on.
Sanchez: Well let me ask you this then, how much forward thinking has this city done? What's going to happen to these folks after they're brought in?
Mayor Adams: That's important.
Sanchez: To make sure that they don't end up back on the streets.
Mayor Adams: And that's the most important component of that. And that's why we are going to need help from Albany to look at that continuation of care. This is something that Dr. Vasan talked about all the time and why we brought him into this administration. How do we do the proper handoff to people so we can build community and support? Because if you build the community and support, what's called the clubhouse model, where people have that continuation of care, they're less likely to go backwards. And I hear people say, "The only way to deal with this is to build more housing." Yes, we have a housing plan, but what are we going to do right now? I keep talking about intervention and prevention. Intervention is the difficult part. What do you do right now? And I'm willing to say we have to do something right now as we build out the long term things we want to do.
Mannarino: Yeah. And one of those things... We spoke to MTA CEO Janno Leiber earlier this week, Mr. Mayor, and he also was recently quoted in the New York Post about talking about this idea that maybe violent criminals who are taken out of the system should not be allowed back in the system, that the law should be widened. Do you agree with that?
Mayor Adams: I have to look at the exact proposal that he's calling for. I think Janno has been an unbelievable partner with the governor as we make our system safe. The last 28 day period, we have a 25 percent decrease in crimes. We're seeing the results of the policies and plans that I laid out, decreasing homicide, decreasing shootings, a substantial increase in gun arrests and removing guns off the street. All of those policies that we laid out in January, you're finally seeing the harvests of the seeds that we are planting, and we're going to continue to move in the right direction.
Sanchez: All right, Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us this morning. We appreciate it.
Mayor Adams: Thank you. Take care.