As the New York metropolitan area—and much of the world—struggles with the physical, social, and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, people throughout the city continue to suffer from their own personal emotional and mental health crises. On the surface, these everyday incidents may seem to be unrelated to the global health emergency that has turned our lives inside out—but in truth, no one today is unaffected by the coronavirus. The staff working with the many programs that make up VNSNY’s Community Mental Health Services (CMHS) understand: these New Yorkers desperately need mental health support, and quickly.
This includes the staff of CMHS’s Mobile Crisis Management Services (MCMS), who are providing critical interventions in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn during this pandemic just as they do each day of the year. “We’re out in the community meeting people where they are and where they live—making a difference every day,” says Deirdré D., Associate Director of CMHS Programs and Clinical Operations.
The MCMS program, which includes specialized Children’s Rapid Response Mobile Crisis Teams, provides rapid on-the-spot assessment and interventions for people experiencing or at risk for a mental health crisis—evaluating by telephone first, and, if necessary, paying a visit to them wherever they might be. They then follow up by providing in-home mental health services and connections to community clinics and other services. “We take the responsibility of being a safety net for New Yorkers very seriously,” says Dierdré.
That was the case during Superstorm Sandy and it’s the case now. Last week, when an older woman attempted suicide, Rosalyn G. and Chantel J., both social workers with the Bronx Mobile Crisis Team, intervened and quite possibly saved her life. The client had made an attempt earlier in the week and she’d told a relative, as well as the two social workers, that she was planning to try again. “I asked her if she would go to the hospital for evaluation, and she agreed,” Rosalyn said. “In the end, she wanted to live and was asking for help.”
On another “typical day” this week, the pair responded to reports of a young man acting violently towards an older relative’s home care worker. After being met at the door with a bout of foul language, the Mobile Crisis Team called 911 and EMS, and the young man was safely taken to the hospital for evaluation. Each time a client is taken to the hospital, notes Rosalyn, their team follows the ambulance or police car to provide relevant details to the attending doctors and nurses. “That extra effort makes a difference,” she adds.
As demanding as their job normally is, those challenges are heightened by the current situation, explains Dierdré. “All of my staff are my heroes,” she says. “They are putting aside their own fears and doing what’s best for the people in our community, providing services to those who are disconnected from care and going into their homes to make sure they get the care they need. We haven’t stopped, despite the fact that we’re in a global infectious disease pandemic.”
For Rosalyn, the hardest part of working during this sweeping health crisis is not being as available as she’d like for her large family. “I’m the matriarch, and my relatives come to me for help,” she says. “I can’t give them my all right now.” Still, on a recent Friday night, after completing her eventful shift and a difficult week, along with the requisite paperwork, she could be found tending to a much different situation: cooking oxtails, peas, and rice to celebrate her daughter’s 31st birthday.
“The people we care for are not only suffering from fears of COVID-19,” Rosalyn says. “They are also dealing with other issues that are not going away. As difficult as it is, I still take pleasure in doing what I do every day.”