BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Saying government has failed to address serious mental illness in New York City, Erik Bottcher, a candidate for City Council in District 3, recently released an eight-point plan to deal with what he calls a “shadow pandemic.”
Bottcher’s proposals are partly informed by his own experience as a survivor of mental health challenges.
“When I was 15 years old, I was admitted to a mental health facility in Upstate New York called Four Winds Hospital,” Bottcher said, in a press release. “Difficult as the experience was, the 30 days of care that I received at Four Winds saved my life. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how privileged I was. Most Americans do not have sufficient access to behavioral healthcare, especially BIPOC people, undocumented people and those living in poverty.
“Thousands of our fellow New Yorkers are experiencing unfathomable pain and suffering, right before our eyes,” Bottcher said. “Many of the tragedies that have happened were entirely avoidable with proper care and treatment.
“I believe it is possible to achieve a society that cares for its most vulnerable and ensures the health and safety of all,” he said. “As a
member of the New York City Council, I will take on this fight.”
For starters, Bottcher is calling for a halt to the closure of inpatient psychiatric beds. The number of certified inpatient psychiatric beds in New York State dropped 12 percent between 2000 and 2018, yet the needs for these beds has mushroomed, he said. New York City during this period lost around 450 bed of these beds, or 72 percent of the total decline. Yet, this decrease has not been replaced by community-based services, and these patients are being funneled into the prison and shelter system, according to the candidate.
Bottcher is also calling for mobile health crisis response teams to be immediately dispatched to the West Side Council district. The mobile teams are currently being used in northern Manhattan under a pilot program that seeks to replace police as the first responders for individuals in mental health crisis. But the Council candidate said there is no time to wait for the pilot program to be completed before expanding it to other neighborhoods.
Bottcher also supports increasing the number crisis stabilization centers a.k.a. medical respite beds. These centers are where mental health patients are sometimes sent after they have been stabilized in the hospital but are too sick to return to a shelter or the streets. These facilities are intended to give individuals time and space to recuperate.
Another plank in Bottcher’s plan to address mental illness is to build supportive housing, meaning affordable housing with case management and other supportive services.
“We must greatly accelerate the construction of permanent supportive housing for people with mental illness,” he stated. “Extensive evidence has shown that permanent supportive housing is the best way for people with mental health challenges to lead full lives outside of hospital settings, the shelter system or criminal justice system.”
Bottcher added that the effort to create affordable units for mental health patients should include the conversion of “distressed commercial properties.”
He also backs expanding the “Clubhouse Model” of psychosocial rehabilitation, created decades ago by Fountain House in Hell’s Kitchen. The program features community centers where people with mental illness can find opportunities for friendship, employment, housing, education and access to medical and psychiatric services in a caring and safe environment. Clubhouse locations are sometimes co-located with supportive housing.
In addition, the candidate says that inmates should be assisted in securing housing before they are released back into society, and should also, after their release, be ensured of proper supportive services, including behavioral healthcare. The Fortune Society, he said, is a model of a community-based organization that helps formerly incarcerated individuals thrive.
Furthermore, Bottcher endorses increasing school-based behavioral health services. Serious mental illness often begins to take shape in adolescence, so early diagnosis and treatment are critical, he noted.
Finally, Bottcher said ThriveNYC funds should be redirected to address serious mental illness. As of 2019, only 10 percent of the initiative’s $250 million annual budget was spent on serving those with serious mental illness.
“While many effective programs have been brought under the ThriveNYC umbrella,” he said, “an overall shift in priorities is needed to address this crisis.”