With NYC plan for mentally ill, hospitals face complex task

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New York City’s latest plan to keep mentally ill people from languishing in public is billed as a common-sense strategy to get them help.

By encouraging police officers and city medics to take more psychologically disturbed people to hospitals, even if they refuse care, Mayor Eric Adams says he’s humanely tackling a problem instead of looking away. But his policy will have to navigate a legal challenge and a cool reception from some city lawmakers. In emergency rooms, psychiatrists must determine whether such patients need hospitalization, perhaps against their will.

It’s no simple decision.

“Some people come in and they are very agitated, and they need to be restrained as soon as they walk into the emergency room. … But there are also people who come in and they’re very calm and quiet, but they just tried to kill themselves two hours ago,” says Dr. Joel A. Idowu, who chairs the psychiatry department at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island.

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