/ April 16, 2021

NYC Well and Mobile Crisis Teams: Unflagging optimism, even during a crisis

For 19 years, Salley May has been a valued member of the Mobile Crisis Team unit at Bellevue Hospital – she is the most experienced social worker on the team. Dispatched via NYC Well or NYC Health + Hospital facilities, Mobile Crisis Teams typically provide in-person services to people with an urgent mental health problem.

Convincing someone in crisis to receive help voluntarily takes an enormous amount of patience and skill. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was especially difficult. “Even in the best of times, it can be hard to persuade someone to work with you,” said Charles Barron, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at H+H’s Office of Behavioral Health. “Now to show up wearing PPE and trying to say ‘trust me’ during a health crisis, it seems like it’s doubly hard.”

But difficulty doesn’t deter Ms. May. When someone was reported for unsafe behavior in his neighborhood, Ms. May made repeated contacts with the person until she was able to build trust with him. Eventually, she and her mobile crisis partner convinced him to join them in a taxi to the emergency room, where the person received mental health services, treatment for a wound, and medication for high blood pressure. She has performed similar feats for countless patients over the years.

“Salley understands what it’s like to have a substance abuse problem or no money or job, and she’s remarkable at treating everyone with respect,” said Dr. Mary Anne Badaracco, Chief of Psychiatry at Bellevue. “She can engage with a range of people and tune in to with what they need. She just has unflagging optimism.”

From Ms. May:
“I went back to school specifically to work at Bellevue, for its history, the mission of all our NYC public hospitals, and the incredible constellation of people that we serve.  I’ve been a line worker in Bellevue’s CPEP and on the Mobile Crisis Team for the past 19 years, with intensified demand during COVID-19 to manage crises in the field despite a patient’s usual supports being closed or operating ‘remotely.’ In cases requiring hospital transport we worked to avoid added trauma to the patient and the overwhelmed EMS/NYPD system by getting the patient to voluntarily travel with us by taxi, which we were able to manage in all but two cases.  I share this honor with my brilliant Bellevue mobile crisis team members and with my family who supports my being on the frontline, wherever that expands to.”

Community mental health program: NYC Well and Mobile Crisis Teams

NYC Well, the City’s comprehensive mental health helpline and a signature ThriveNYC program, deploys Mobile Crisis Teams operated by hospitals and community-based organizations to respond to urgent mental health needs. Deployed approximately 21,000 times per year, Mobile Crisis Teams often serve children and adults in their homes. Mobile Crisis Teams can include nurses, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, community liaisons and peers. Teams can arrive within hours of a referral and services can include assessment, crisis counseling, and connection to ongoing services.