A New York City paramedic says that the city’s mental health crisis is worse than he’s ever seen it before.
In addition, that Mayor Adams’ plan for first responders to forcibly transfer homeless people with severe mental illness to a hospital is putting even greater stresses on an underfunded healthcare system already near its breaking point due to the pandemic.
Anthony Almojera has rarely gone a day without coming across a homeless individual suffering from mental illnesses.
A lieutenant paramedic with the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, Almojera says he’s been on the front lines of the mental health crisis in New York City, seeing the struggle up close on the streets and subways.
“The amount of calls we’re doing, the amount of assaults on members in the last 10 years has tripled,” Almojera, who is also the author of “Riding the Lightning: A Year in the Life of a New York City Paramedic, explained.
“We’re dealing with an underfunded health care system and underfunded social safety net system. This is the reality today.”
Mayor Eric Adams is now directing first responders to forcibly transfer homeless individuals with severe mental illness to a hospital. Adams says the city has a moral obligation to treat the people who are struggling to take care of themselves.
But Almojera says EMS workers and police officers are already overworked as it is and this places added stress at a time when many have reached their breaking point.
“I have no problem with him saying they’re going to get off the streets and get care,” Almojera said.
“But they’re coming back out into the streets. There’s not enough beds, there’s not enough social workers, there’s not enough nurses, there’s not enough facilities, there’s not enough EMS people. So it’s just wash, rinse and repeat cycle that’s happening over and over, and it’s getting worse.”
Many also believe mental health professionals should be the ones leading this initiative, not the police.
During a rally outside City Hall, protestors pushed back on the mayor’s mental health plan.
“NYPD officers are not equipped to decide if someone should be forced into mental health treatment,” one advocate shouted.
The city also has a very limited number of psychiatric beds to care for those struggling with mental illness. Thousands of beds went offline during the pandemic as hospitals struggled to keep up with the number of COVID patients.
On top of that, many of the community outpatient programs that would ensure these patients are continuing their treatments, have waitlists that stretch over a year.
Almojera says the mayor needs to first focus on bolstering these programs.
“I would say to him, Mr. Mayor, it’s only gotten worse than when you were a cop,” Almojera said. “He knows what’s going on in EMS and how understaffed and underpaid, how people are leaving. This is a crisis. So I would say Mr. Mayor, I applaud you for wanting to do something because action has to be taken. But you need to bring us to the table.”
The first lawsuit challenging the mayor’s mental health directive was filed on Thursday.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the city’s law department said, “Mayor Adams’ compassionate plan to connect New Yorkers with severe mental illness to support and carefully complies with federal and state law, and we look forward to making our case before the court.”