May 9, 2023 | 7:48 p.m

The death of Jordan Neely, a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia, has prompted fierce calls for accountability.

Neely deserved to be helped before it was too late. The public deserves to feel safe.

These are not separate goals and accountability is the solution to both.

We need a public mental health system committed to prioritizing people with serious mental illness in crisis situations.

The tragedy reflects a dark saga all too familiar to the severely mentally ill, their families and society.

The police received calls about an emotionally disturbed person. Five passengers reportedly called 911 before and during Neely’s chokehold on a subway train by Marine veteran Daniel Penny.

Callers said Neely had “harassed people”, “attacked people”, made threats and (falsely) possessed a gun. Neely also reportedly asked for help: food, shelter, a job.

The NYPD received more than 166,000 computerized calls in 2021.

Families call the police when their loved ones are in crisis, but they are often told that nothing can be done unless the person poses a danger to themselves or others.

People with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are often victims of violence and, if left untreated, can become violent offenders.

Neely suffered from schizophrenia.
Provided by Carolyn Neely

In 2018, the mentally ill Saheed Vassell was shot and killed by police while waving what appeared to be a weapon.

In January 2022, Martial Simon pushed Michelle Go in front of a subway train to her death. Neely, Vassell and Simon all had serious mental illnesses – and were untreated.

No treatment becomes a dangerous cycle. Neely had been arrested at least 42 times in 10 years — at least twice since 2019 for subway assaults.

The mentally ill Alexander Wright, who indiscriminately beat a woman unconscious in May 2021, has had more than 40 arrests.

City officials know these frequent fliers well — in fact, Neely was included in the Department of Homeless Services’ “Top 50” list of those most in need of help and treatment.

Yet he was constantly torn between jail for indiscriminate violence and hospitalization without stabilization.

Neely’s aunt told the Post that she “begged judges and doctors to help them get them proper care” — to no avail.

The pattern remains. Simon had 24 hospitalizations in 20 years for schizophrenia.

Anthonia Egegbara, who pushed a passenger onto a subway train in 2021 at the age of 29, had been hospitalized more than 50 times for schizophrenia and other diagnoses.

What is missing is continuous care for severely mentally ill people before, during and after the crisis.

Neely was included in the Department of Homeless Services’ “Top 50” list of people most in need of care and services.
Provided by Carolyn Neely

Above all, this requires beds – in general hospitals and independent psychiatric clinics as well as inpatient beds.

For those like Neely, unable to remain stable or avoid violence without critical care and supervision, longer-term inpatient care is probably the most appropriate and humane setting.

Without her, Neely was institutionalized in a punitive, cross-system environment of prisons and streets.

City and county mental health agencies should operate programs and services, including a wide range of beds, in this continuity of care system in partnership with the state, which provides funding and oversight.

New York must also maintain adequate bed capacity in state psychiatric hospitals.

First responders try to revive Neely on the F train at the Broadway-Lafayette station in Manhattan.
Paul Martinka for the NY Post

The federal government should support the effort by lifting the mental health institution (IMD) exclusion that prevents states from investing in beds for mental health care.

A truly effective system has yet to emerge, as the movement to deinstitutionalize psychiatric patients from hospitals into the community has paralleled a shift in mental health funding that deprioritized treatment of the mentally ill in favor of mental illness prevention among the masses.

This is despite the fact that we don’t know what causes mental illness (so we can’t prevent it).

And the vast majority of those who are “problematic” will never develop a serious mental illness: prevalence rates for schizophrenia are around 1 to 2 percent.

Mayor Eric Adams has taken constructive steps. He has implemented plans aimed at improving access to care and psychiatric hospitalization: by clarifying when police and other frontline workers can initiate involuntary treatment, by proposing reforms to commitment assessments, and by directing healthcare providers to take the medical history of the Patients to consider when determining whether a discharge is appropriate.

Adams also added outreach critical teams to help maintain service continuity at any point where the mentally ill may be lost from providers’ viewpoints.

Importantly, Adam’s focus on mental illness is complemented by Gov. Kathy Hochul, whose recent budget includes funding for more than 1,000 psychiatric beds in hospitals across New York.

Neely’s aunt told the Post that she was “begging judges and doctors” to get him the help he needed.
Provided by Carolyn Neely

Hochul’s support is needed because some of Adams’ initiatives, such as exit planning, fall under state jurisdiction.

Expanding stationary capacities was not easy. Hospitals have already missed a deadline set by the Hochul administration to bring psychiatric beds with pandemic shutters back online. Beds are the key to the success of both town and country.

New York does a better job of prioritizing the severely mentally ill than it did during the de Blasio-Cuomo era, but the Neely tragedy shows more needs to be done.

Decades of bad politics have dug New York into a deep hole.

As for concerns, all New Yorkers would be less concerned if there was less disorder and violence on the subway.

Carolyn D. Gorman is an Adjunct Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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