Social workers to respond to mental health 911 calls in NYC pilot program

ThriveNYC is a new pilot program that sends social workers to answer nonviolent mental health emergency calls instead of police officers.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams supported it.

"For far too long, our city's response to mental health calls has been a  failure," Williams said.

The ThriveNYC will begin in the spring in Harlem and East Harlem. Those police precincts that handled the highest number of mental health 911 calls last year.

ThriveNYC Director Susan Herman said under the test program a team of two FDNY EMTs and one social worker would respond to a nonviolent mental health emergency call.

"Mental health response teams will have the experience and the expertise to de-escalate a crisis situation and respond to a range of mental health problems such as suicidal substance misuse and serious mental illness," Herman said.

RELATED: Denver program successfully sent mental health professionals, not police, to hundreds of calls

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The pilot program has gotten some criticism. Ruth Lowenkron, the director of the Disability Justice Program, said it falls short of what's needed.

"The EMS are too closely linked with police," Lowenkron said. "Furthermore, the way the system would work is through 911 and 911 is the police."

A few other cities have started to replace police with mental health professionals in certain situations.