/ April 13, 2021

Co-Response Teams: Elevating work with data, seven days a week

Richard Gamarra is a data analyst in the Division of Mental Hygiene at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Mr. Gamarra’s role collecting and analyzing data rarely puts him in the limelight—but it is critical in understanding how to best address the mental health needs of New Yorkers.

As the pandemic raged through the city, staffing changes in his unit left Mr. Gamarra handling the jobs of three different programs, including Co-Response Teams, which include police officers and clinicians who proactively engage people with mental illness and substance use disorders who may be at an elevated risk of harm to themselves or others.

During the pandemic, these programs could no longer operate in person the way they once did – and that meant that the way Mr. Gamarra measured their effectiveness also had to change. He acted quickly to develop an alternative data entry system, without any model to guide his work.

That’s not the only time Mr. Gamarra stepped up. When the Department of Homeless Services began helping New Yorkers experiencing homelessness relocate to isolation hotels, Mr. Gamarra volunteered to provide daily data on how the new program was working. With this new undertaking on top of ongoing responsibilities, Mr. Gamarra was working seven days a week.

“Richard has an ‘I can do this’ attitude,” said Athea Long, Executive Director for Crisis Prevention and Intervention Unit in Bureau of Health Promotion for Justice-Impacted Populations, Division of Mental Hygiene at the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. “He works very hard and he’s very humble, but the things he’s doing are tedious and take a lot of time and energy. But no matter what I ask, he says ‘I got you.’”

From Mr. Gamarra:
“A lot of my colleagues are doing great work around the city providing mental health services to vulnerable community members. I am motivated by my desire to elevate their work in the most effective and responsible manner possible so that it may continue.”


AT A GLANCE: Co-Response Teams

• Teams of 2 police officers and 1 behavioral health professional proactively intervene both before and after crises to support New Yorkers at an increased risk of harm to self or others
• Available 14 hours a day, 7 days a week in all 5 boroughs
• Staffed by both NYPD officers and DOHMH clinicians, the Co-Response Teams’ Triage Desk is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is a resource for police officers in the field who encounter persons exhibiting signs of mental illness
• Teams provide connection to mental health care and other support, including housing, employment, social services, and family, leading to greater stability to people’s lives

• Co-Response Teams have served 1,925 New Yorkers since 2016
• In the most recent reporting period, there was a 91% reduction in police contacts involving violent offenses among New Yorkers who had previous violent offenses