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Elmhurst Hospital reopens D-11 mental health unit for women from Rikers Island

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Elmhurst Hospital Center has set to reopen its D-11 intensive inpatient psychiatric unit for women from Rikers Island after a nearly four-year closure. Once perceived as detainees, these women will now be treated as patients upon stepping into the ward, emphasizing the shift in perspective from incarceration to medical care.

Captain Nicola McKenzie of the Department of Correction stressed, “Once they are here, they are considered patients,” highlighting the commitment to viewing these individuals as in need of help rather than as inmates. D-11, the specialized unit, is a collaborative effort between Elmhurst Hospital and the Department of Correction, aiming to address the escalating challenges posed by the rising number of detainees with serious mental illness on Rikers Island.

Dr. Vladimir Gasca, Director of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, shared insights into the reopening process, noting enhancements made to ensure patient safety. The closure of the unit was a result of the dual impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a staffing crisis at the Department of Correction. However, with Tuesday’s scheduled reopening, the focus is on providing equitable mental health services to both male and female detainees.

The unit, renovated during its closure, boasts fixtures and windows designed to minimize self-harm, and rooms without locking doors, promoting an open and therapeutic environment. Dr. Gasca anticipates high demand, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the mental health needs of incarcerated females.

While advocates welcome the reopening, questions linger about the delay and the adequacy of care provided to women on Rikers during the interim period. Programs such as art therapy and yoga are introduced to complement traditional psychiatric care, reflecting a holistic approach towards the well-being of the women in custody.

The reopening of the D-11 unit not only addresses a crucial need for mental health services but also aims to bring positive changes to Rikers Island. With a citywide focus on mental health, this facility becomes a pivotal place for incarcerated females to receive the treatment they require, contributing to broader efforts to reform and enhance the Department of Correction’s approach to mental health challenges.

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