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A Critical Opportunity for New York to Increase Care Not Coercion for Those Living with Serious Mental Illness


Health care at the hospital (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Far too many New Yorkers living with serious mental illnesses have been left to languish in our streets, hospitals, jails, and prisons without adequate access to the health care, housing, employment, and other rehabilitative and supportive services they need to survive and thrive.

Thankfully, help is on the way this year. In the next week, the Governor and State Legislature will work to pass a budget launching an unprecedented number of initiatives to help New Yorkers to get ahead of and better manage serious mental health crises and, in doing so, will both advance public health and public safety for all New Yorkers.

With these budget investments, New York will be in a position to help people before a crisis by providing over 1,000 new housing units to help unhoused New Yorkers secure a safe place to stay. We’ll also be able to put 20 new Safe Options Support Teams of trained mental health practitioners out in the community to bring hope and help to those who are at risk of relapse, hospitalization, and incarceration.

This July, we’ll be launching a new 9-8-8 mental health and suicide prevention lifeline system in New York that will offer immediate access to a trained crisis counselor, with follow-up available at newly-developed crisis stabilization and respite centers as needed.

The proposed budget investments would also put upwards of 1,000 psychiatric inpatient beds online across the state that will allow for longer hospital admissions for those in acute psychiatric need.

And we will be providing desperately needed help to our hard-pressed community mental health workforce with the largest cost of living adjustment in recent history.

But what we must not do is to return to the onerous policies of the past and force more people with mental illness to be placed on coercive treatment orders.

The truth is that people who live with severe mental illnesses are eleven times more likely to be victims of violence and five times more likely to be murder victims. By providing care that addresses their most urgent needs, we are keeping them and our entire communities safe.

Kendra’s Law – establishing a system of “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” that is a court-ordered and mandatory detainment of individuals suffering from mental illness – has resulted in glaring disparate racial impacts. Since the program’s start in 1999, four out of five outpatient treatment orders have involved Black and Hispanic people in New York City.

Policies that criminalize people in need and that discriminate based on race will only further disincentivize people from seeking out community-based supports that could have made a difference before a crisis ever occurs.

We know how to help people in the greatest need and we are bringing new programs online that will voluntarily engage large numbers of people who have committed no crimes – saving lives and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Rather than to expand Kendra's Law, let’s use this moment to engage, support, and serve thousands of New Yorkers during times of their greatest need, creating or augmenting essential, voluntary crisis services, hospital care and supportive housing.

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New York State Senator Samra G. Brouk represents parts of Monroe and Ontario counties, including Rush, Mendon, Pittsford, Perinton, Fairport, Penfield, East Rochester, East Irondequoit, Naples, Bloomfield, Victor, and the east side of the City of Rochester and is chair of Senate Committee on Mental Health. Harvey Rosenthal is CEO of New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS). On Twitter
@SenatorBrouk & @HarveyRosentha3.

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