A New York City pilot program to send social workers instead of cops to handle 911 calls involving the mentally ill is lacking a key component — the social workers themselves.
The program, known as B-HEARD for Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, was supposed to start this month.
But the city has not hired any social workers to staff the program or even reassigned them from other areas, according to Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for DC37, the union representing social workers with the city’s Health + Hospitals corporation.
“Nothing has happened thus far because we’re still in discussions with the city,” Goldstein said.
An FDNY EMS source told The Post “we’re in the middle of negotiations.”
“We’re trying to make sure that all people involved are well trained, safe and adequately compensated,” the source said.
The delay of B-HEARD’s launch comes as the city is dealing with a spate of violent attacks in the subway system, many involving those struggling with mental illness, including last week’s bloody rampage by Rigoberto Lopez, who killed two people on the A train.
Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday the program, which was supposed to start this month, would be “in place in a matter of weeks in a number of precincts.”
“We intend to expand it greatly in the course of this year. There’s a few things that have be done to finalize it, it’s a new approach. We [have] got to make sure the training is very strong, a few last pieces to put in place, but you’re going to see [it] expand rapidly in the year 2021,” Hizzoner said.
The mayor has released few details on the program, which he trumpeted in November and is supposed to operate under First Lady Chirlane McCray’s billion dollar ThriveNYC initiative.
“It is not surprising, unfortunately, that a program meant to roll out related to ThriveNYC still has not done so. The ThriveNYC initiative has been incredibly ineffective because it was not focused on serving the most seriously mentally ill. Programs are certainly needed now more than ever to prevent more tragedies,” said Carolyn Gorman, former project manager for mental illness policy and education policy at the Manhattan Institute.
B-HEARD is supposed to pair a social worker with two EMTs for the emergency calls.
“The teams will work with individuals who are severely mentally ill, and individuals who are chemically addicted, they should be able to use crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques in the midst of a crisis,” according to a job posting for the social workers.
The new hires will be “working outdoors in all kinds of weather; climbing stairs; treating patients who may have infectious and communicable diseases; working for extended periods during the day or night in a vehicle; working in confined spaces such as trains and buildings; treating patients at heights such as rooftops, bridges or elevated highways; and carrying a mobile radio for communication purposes.”
The program will not be staffed around the clock. The social workers will be on duty in two shifts from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., according to a job posting which said the salary range for the position was $62,112 and $71,429 a year.
“When you are dealing with the severely mentally ill and those that are addicted to drugs, those do not sound like the kinds of cases that you should send social workers in. They are going to end up calling the cops to the scene anyway to deal with it,” said Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Police officers will respond with the teams in situations involving a weapon or imminent risk of harm, the city has said.
“This is a groundbreaking initiative to launch in any year, let alone in the middle of a global pandemic. It is essential that we get this done right. We have selected the precincts, continue to hire staff, and look forward to the program’s imminent launch,” said City Hall spokeswoman Avery Cohen.
Additional reporting by Dean Balsamini