On June 6, 2021, New York City launched a pilot program in which both mental and physical health professionals are responding to 911 mental health emergency calls. This new approach, called B-HEARD – the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division attempts to treat mental health crises as public health problems, not public safety issues
B-HEARD teams include emergency medical technicians/paramedics from the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services and social workers from NYC Health + Hospitals. Teams operate seven days a week, 16 hours a day in the 25, 28, and 32 police precincts in East Harlem and parts of central and north Harlem.
In 2020, there were approximately 8,400 mental health 911 calls in this area (Zone 7), the highest volume of any dispatch zone in the city.
The goals of the B-HEARD pilot are to:
Route 911 mental health calls to a health-centered B-HEARD response whenever it is appropriate to do so. Calls that involve a weapon, an imminent risk of harm, or where NYPD or EMS call-takers know that an individual has an immediate need for a transport to a medical facility will continue to receive a traditional 911 response—an ambulance and police officers.
Increase connection to community-based care, reduce unnecessary transports to hospitals, and reduce unnecessary use of police resources. Before B-HEARD, mental healthcare was not delivered in communities during an emergency. Instead, emergency medical technicians/paramedics provided basic medical assistance in the field and transported those who needed mental healthcare to a hospital. Now, with B-HEARD social workers delivering care on site, emergency mental healthcare is reaching people in their homes or in public spaces for the first time in New York City’s history.
The text above is cribbed from the promotional material of BHeard that you can read (in full) here:
What is interesting is that the rosy picture in the 2nd half of the press release on how successful BHeard has been, is sharply contrasted with the careful analysis found in the Gothamist where they note that the data indicates that:
During the first three months of its operation between early June and late August, 1,478 emergency mental health calls were made to 911 operators in the areas serviced by the program. Only 23% of those calls — 342 incidents — were routed to B-HEARD teams. The rest of the mental health crises were initially shared with traditional response teams involving the cops. In both cases, emergency medical technicians or paramedics were dispatched as well.
On top of that, B-HEARD was often under-resourced and didn’t have enough personnel to handle all of the emergencies shared by 911 operators. The program had to redirect 17% of calls back to the police.
To read the full, Gothamist analysis, see: