Challenges loom against NYC pledge to ease homelessness crisis

New York City’s pledge to ease the homeless crisis and get help for those with severe mental illness could face a roadblock. The number of hospital beds available for psychiatric care is shrinking.

Mayor Eric Adams has been facing the heat over his new directive which forces homeless individuals suffering from severe mental illness into a hospital for evaluation, without their consent if needed.

So he doubled down on Monday.

“I didn’t get elected to do an easy task,” Adams said at an unrelated press conference. “I got elected to look at these systemic problems that have been in the city for generations.”

But despite promising that there will be a psychiatric bed for every person in need, the numbers don’t match the mayor’s pledge. During the pandemic, hospitals cut the number of psych beds to care for COVID patients and many of them have remained offline.

The mayor has asked private hospitals to also free up beds and has claimed many are on board.

Kenneth Raske, the president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents more than 250 hospitals, said he supports the mayor’s plan. But when asked if the hospitals he represents will make beds available for psych patients, he wouldn’t fully commit to either how many or how soon.

“Psychiatric problems are episodic issues so you can’t just allocate beds,” Raske said. “The expansion is occurring. But will we have to wrestle with other hurdles? The answer is absolutely, yes, we will, but we will clear those hurdles.”

The mayor also said there is no plan at this time to report the number of people who are being taken to a hospital for evaluation, making it hard to track the success of this initiative.

I didn’t get elected to do an easy task. I got elected to look at these systemic problems that have been in the city for generations.

A city hall spokesperson said that at least one person last week showing signs of severe mental illness was transported to the hospital but didn’t know if they were treated or connected with continuing care.

“Within the limitations of HIPAA laws or other laws, we’re not required to report,” Adams said. “But we’re going to try to be as transparent as possible.”

But civil rights advocates push back on this claim that reporting the number of people being taken to a hospital for care would violate any HIPPA laws.

“We want to know the length of stay, I want to know whether they’re admitted, whether they’re not admitted, whether they’re medicated, not medicated, whether they’re connected with services, what services, for how long, whether the city is finding housing for them,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.

Lieberman said forcing potentially hundreds of mentally ill patients into hospitals and outpatient programs without a firm plan in place threatens the system as a whole.

“It’s like potentially blowing up the whole barn because the mayor is proposing, by his own words, to sweep thousands of people off the streets into the already overburdened hospital system,” Lieberman said. “That means that people who want to go to the hospital for care won’t have any place to go.”

It’s like potentially blowing up the whole barn because the mayor is proposing… to sweep thousands of people off the streets into the already overburdened hospital system.

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