City Comptroller and mayoral hopeful Scott Stringer took shots Tuesday at ThriveNYC — the de Blasio administration’s beleaguered $1 billion mental health initiative – saying that the program has failed to show progress and suggesting that one of its key platforms be axed.
“We’re spending $200 million a year on a mental health program, Thrive, with little accountability, with little data or outcomes to show progress,” Stringer said during his virtual budget briefing.
When asked by a reporter what he would do differently about Thrive, Stringer indicated that he would disband one of the initiative’s signature programs, the mental health hotline NYC Well.
“There’s a number of measures that experts will use to evaluate if the programs are working or not working,” Stringer said. “I will tell you this, that we can’t just say we’re throwing money at problems without seeing any kind of transparent numbers. As you know, that’s been one of the major critiques that I’ve had of the Thrive program.”
Stringer continued, “But, look, it’s now time to deconstruct a bureaucratic program and invest more directly with services, cut through the bureaucracy, get rid of 1-800 numbers.”
The comptroller’s remarks prompted City Hall to go on the defensive about Thrive — which was launched by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray in November 2015.
“Trying and failing to understand the logic of ending a free phone line for people who need mental health support during a pandemic,” de Blasio spokeswoman Avery Cohen said in a tweet.
City Hall Press Secretary Bill Neidhardt fired back at the comptroller, tweeting, “Stringer is a citywide elected official. His words have power. His words are deepening the mental health stigma.”
In the tweet Neidhardt referred to the story of Queens resident Zisa Azisa who took advantage of the NYC Well hotline.
“Meet Zisa. Read their story of how NYC Well helped them when they needed it most,” Neidhardt tweeted, adding, “@NYCComptroller says New Yorkers like Zisa shouldn’t have that lifeline anymore.”
Joshua Goodman, the former spokesman for ThriveNYC who now works as the assistant commissioner for public affairs at the city Sanitation Department, tweeted that from the launch of the initiative through fiscal year 2020, “NYC Well was contacted 945,000 times, leading to immediate conversations with counselors, connections to ongoing therapy, and the dispatch of Mobile Crisis Teams.”
“You want to improve it? Great,” Goodman wrote. “Getting rid of it is a shocking idea.”
Stringer spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays wrote in her own tweet, “With tremendous mental health challenges facing New Yorkers in pandemic, Comptroller believes we must invest more in direct services than 1-800 numbers, especially for students dealing with serious mental health needs who are not the best candidates to get care from a hotline.”
Late last year, de Blasio and McCray rolled out a plan under the banner of Thrive for boosting counseling services for young people struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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