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First Lady McCray Announces Creation of Office of ThriveNYC to Strengthen Mental Health Citywide

January 17, 2019

ThriveNYC initiative, spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray, begins next phase of program to ensure long-term sustainability across City agencies; Susan Herman named as Senior Advisor to the Mayor and head of Office of ThriveNYC

NEW YORK–First Lady Chirlane McCray announced today the creation of the Office of ThriveNYC, bringing the initiative to the next phase: integrating mental health policy work and building out Thrive programs across all city agencies to ensure the initiative is a sustainable part of how we address a host of challenges across New York City. Under her continuing direction, the Office of ThriveNYC will strengthen its mission to serve New Yorkers who need mental health services and the initiative's underlying key principles for innovation and action in mental health. The Mayor and First Lady named Susan Herman, Deputy Commissioner at NYPD, as Senior Advisor to the Mayor, Office of ThriveNYC. In this role, she will manage the Office of ThriveNYC and oversee the continued integration of Thrive's programs throughout City agencies.

The Office of Thrive will report to First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan. The First Lady will continue to oversee policy goals and the future direction of ThriveNYC.

Dr. Gary Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner for Health-Mental Hygiene in the City's Health Department, will also join the Office of ThriveNYC as Chief, Policy and Strategy, Office of ThriveNYC. Working under Herman's direction, Dr. Belkin will be tasked with overseeing the strategic policy direction for various programs within the Office. These changes will strengthen the Office of ThriveNYC and help ensure its sustainability for years to come.

"For the last three years, ThriveNYC has worked to make transformative, long lasting changes to the way we deliver mental health services across our city," said First Lady Chirlane McCray. "I'm proud of the work we have done so far, and look forward to working more closely with Susan and Gary as we build out the Office of ThriveNYC to ensure this initiative supports New Yorkers with all levels of mental health needs long after this Administration."

"ThriveNYC is tackling issues around mental health in innovative, comprehensive ways that are unmatched across the country and the world," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "I look forward to seeing this initiative continue to strengthen under the guidance of Susan so we can change the stigma around mental health once and for all."

"The First Lady's mental health work across the city is one of the things this administration should be most proud of," said First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan. "I'm honored to now share in that work and thrilled to have Susan leading the way. Together, we'll ensure every New Yorker in need knows where to turn."

"ThriveNYC has created groundbreaking programs to serve everyone in this city. I intend to build on the innovation of Thrive and explore the partnership opportunities it allows between City agencies, community groups and New Yorkers," said incoming Senior Advisor to the Mayor, Office of ThriveNYC Susan Herman. "My mission at the NYPD was to enhance public safety, and at the Office of ThriveNYC, I will seek to enhance public wellness. I want to thank Mayor de Blasio, First Lady McCray, and Commissioner O'Neill for the opportunity to serve the City in this new capacity."

As Senior Advisor to the Mayor, Herman will bring her experience of strong leadership and policy development to the office. As the first person to serve as Deputy Commissioner, Collaborative Policing, Herman has worked to address many issues at the intersection of public safety and public health, including two Thrive initiatives – the Crime Victim Assistance Program which places victim advocates in every precinct in the city, and the Crisis Intervention Team Training that seeks to improve encounters between first responders and people who may have behavioral health needs. She also helped develop the Co-Response Teams, an innovative partnership of police officers and clinicians that connects vulnerable people who present safety risks to appropriate services. Herman has served on Mayor de Blasio's Behavioral Health Task Force and co-chaired with Dr. Belkin the Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force.

Dr. Belkin is an experienced mental health visionary who worked to build the ThriveNYC program from the ground up in his current role as Executive Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health. Under his guidance, the Office of ThriveNYC will advance a "mental health in all policies" approach to governing, and will continue developing innovative ways to provide services that are missing from communities. Together, Herman and Dr. Belkin will work to ensure Thrive leads to fundamental improvements in how City government improves mental health.

"Through the First Lady's leadership, New York City is recognized worldwide as a go-to for needed new ideas about how to acknowledge mental health as a key feature of what makes a city and community healthy and inclusive," said Dr. Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of Health-Mental Hygiene in the City's Health Department. "It has been a privilege to be part of making that work possible, and I am especially grateful for the opportunity to now continue to build on the gains of the past few years to help set a firm footing where improving mental health and closing gaps for addressing illness is considered a routine expectation of what city government does well."

Alexis Confer, currently the Executive Director of ThriveNYC, will take on a new role as Senior Advisor for Mayoral Initiatives, with a focus in the immediate term on upcoming legislative priorities.

Prior to her role at Thrive, Confer served as Chief of Staff to former Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery. She was responsible for creating the Mayor's Pre-K for All Outreach team, and alongside the First Lady, she was part of the initial team that built a framework for ThriveNYC. As ThriveNYC's Executive Director, Confer was responsible for implementing program improvements and focusing agency efforts to ensure all of ThriveNYC's initiatives were up and running.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to lead ThriveNYC as Executive Director over the last year," said Alexis Confer, Executive Director of ThriveNYC. I'm excited to see the work we've accomplished expand and develop under the new leadership. As Senior Advisor for Mayoral Initiatives I look forward to continue advocating and implementing the Mayor's vision. The Administration has ambitious goals for the second term and I'm thrilled to be an integral part of the core team that will advance his vision."

"In three years, ThriveNYC has fundamentally changed the way our city approaches mental health. It has created and expanded an array of programs and initiatives for vulnerable populations that will ultimately make our communities much healthier," said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio. "This work has just begun, and I'm thrilled to see the creation of this office under the leadership of Ms. Herman and Dr. Belkin."

"Continuing to strengthen public safety in New York City requires a comprehensive approach to meeting mental health needs, and ensuring those who need services can receive the very best," said Police Commissioner James O'Neill. "Susan Herman has dedicated her career at the NYPD to bringing people together from different backgrounds to achieve a common purpose. I can think of no better person to spearhead this urgent mission."

"The First Lady has been an extraordinary advocate for mental health in New York City and across the country. Today's announcement cements this Administration's commitment to bring mental illness out of the shadows, reducing the stigma many New Yorkers face and closing gaps in treatment," said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. "I thank Dr. Belkin for his years of service to the Health Department and look forward to continuing to work together to serve the mental health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers."

"Mental illness and substance misuse continues to negatively impact far too many lives on Staten Island and across the city, and I applaud the First Lady and her team for their commitment to tackling this serious issue," said Staten Island District Attorney Michael E. McMahon. "NYPD Deputy Commissioner Susan Herman has been a tremendous partner with my office, showing exemplary leadership and helping us to pioneer many essential initiatives to drive down crime and make our streets safer. Her passion and dedication towards her job will only strengthen under her new role, much to the benefit of all New Yorkers in need of mental health services."

"By changing the conversation around issues of mental health and delivering on its mental health action plan, ThriveNYC is helping New Yorkers from all walks of life who struggle with mental illness and substance use disorders," said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. "This announcement marks an exciting new chapter for ThriveNYC with the powerful addition of Susan Herman – a highly accomplished champion of forward-looking public health and safety initiatives and a strong collaborative partner with my Office. I applaud the Mayor and First Lady for their dedicated leadership and innovation on these issues, and having invested heavily in the City's Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Action Plan, I am proud to offer my continued support for this powerful work."

"The need for stronger and more innovative mental health services has never been more necessary than now as awareness is at an all-time high, which is why strengthening ThriveNYC is so important to residents throughout the City," said Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Committee on Public Safety. "Deputy Commissioner Susan Herman has been the driving force of the NYPD's efforts to improve their victims' services, crisis response strategies, opioid crisis responses, and the implementation of FETI training for all officers. Her brilliance and tenacity will be a critical element to the success of the new Office of ThriveNYC and I look forward to our continued partnership as she takes on her new role."

"Susan is a leading expert and life-long advocate for victims of crime and abuse. Safe Horizon was honored and privileged to work with her in her role at the NYPD, and we have deep gratitude for her leadership in bringing a crime victim's advocate to every New York City precinct," said Ariel Zwang, CEO of Safe Horizon, the nation's largest victim services agency. "The Mayor and First Lady have made an excellent choice for our city in appointing Susan to lead ThriveNYC. We eagerly look forward to continuing our work with her and know that New Yorkers are lucky to have her working on their behalf. "

"Susan Herman is a star. She brings an enormous wealth of knowledge and passion to her work and has a remarkable ability to effect positive system changes. I can think of no better person to lead the charge of Thrive NYC. If anyone can change how we approach mental health, Susan Herman can. The City is lucky to have her," said Joy Solomon, Director and Managing Attorney, The Weinberg Center for Elder Justice at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale.

About Susan Herman

Susan Herman was named Deputy Commissioner, Collaborative Policing of the New York Police Department in Jan. 2014. Herman's role is to foster shared responsibility for public safety through productive partnerships with individuals, government agencies, and community-based organizations. The Office of Collaborative Policing concentrates on developing more non-enforcement options for police officers, designing creative and focused enforcement strategies, and improving access to police services.

A member of the NYPD from 1985 to 1990, DC Herman served as the Special Counsel to the Police Commissioner to three consecutive Police Commissioners: Benjamin Ward, Richard Condon and Lee P. Brown. Prior to her return, DC Herman was an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Pace University. She also served as the Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, Director of Community Services at The Enterprise Foundation, Director of the Domestic Violence Division at Victim Services (now Safe Horizon), Director of Mediation Services at the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution, and an instructor at NYU School of Law and NYU's Wagner School of Public Service. Herman holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Bryn Mawr College and a Juris Doctorate from the Antioch School of Law.

About Dr. Gary Belkin

As Executive Deputy Commissioner, Dr. Belkin was central to the development of ThriveNYC, and is an international expert on designing more comprehensive policies and public health approaches to mental health, as well as improving the performance of systems of care.

Prior to joining to the Health Department, he was Medical Director for Behavioral Health of NYC Health + Hospitals, advised the World Health Organization and numerous national and local mental health systems globally, and serves as the founding Editor in Chief of the open-source journal Global Mental Health. Gary has also served as Chief of Psychiatry (Interim) at Bellevue Hospital, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of H+H.

Dr. Belkin received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Brown University, his Masters in Public Health from Harvard University's School of Public Health, and his doctorate in history from Harvard University.

About Alexis Confer

Confer has served in the de Blasio Administration since 2014, and prior to Executive Director at ThriveNYC, she served as Chief of Staff to former Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery. Confer played an integral role in spearheading Pre-K for All and ThriveNYC, among other initiatives. She led the outreach, enrollment, and partnership efforts during the first year of the de Blasio Administration's signature initiative.

Confer has years of experience launching outreach and engagement campaigns, having served as the Pennsylvania Deputy Field Director for Obama for America 2012, and then as the first National Field Director for Everytown for Gun Safety. Confer has a B.A. from the George Washington University and a MPA from NYU Wagner School of Public Service.

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