Who is the New York Office of Mental Health?
New York State has an extensive, multi-faceted mental health system serving more than 700,000 individuals annually. This organization is called the New York Office of Mental Health (OMH) and operates psychiatric centers across the state. The OMH also regulates, certifies, and oversees more than 4,500 programs run by local governments and nonprofit agencies.
The NY OMH is a vast organization with many branches, including research, innovation, statistics and reports, and regulations. Their multi-tiered structure includes services for families and consumers and provides extensive resources for behavioral health providers.
Most importantly, the NY OMH regularly publishes a comprehensive guide that serves as a reference document for ligature-resistant hardware for the building manufacturing sector nationwide.
What is the History of NY OMH?
Over the past century, the NY OMH has grown into one of the country’s largest state mental health organizations.
In 1926 the department was founded, with its original name being the Office of Mental Hygiene. It was considered a part of the restructuring of the New York state government and was responsible for people diagnosed with mental retardation, mental illness, or epilepsy.
By 1950, this department grew into the largest agency of the New York state government, with over 24,000 employees and an operating cost exceeding a third of the state’s budget.
Then in 1962, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse was transferred from the New York State Department of Health to the Department of Mental Hygiene. Then in 1972, the Mental Hygiene Law was revised and reenacted.
Finally, in 1978, the Department of Mental Hygiene was reorganized into the autonomous Office of Mental Health, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, and the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD).
These three offices are headed up by a commissioner who serves on a council performing inter-office coordination. In 2010 the OMRDD became the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). In 2019 the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse became the Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS).
Why is the NY OMH important to the door hardware industry?
This past January, the NY OMH released the 29th and latest edition of their Patient Safety Standards, Materials, and Systems Guidelines. Every year the door hardware industry uses this patient safety guide as a reference for manufacturing ligature-resistant hardware in alignment with their patient safety features for inpatient psychiatric environments.
All of the manufactured items covered in the guide represent the styles and properties of products that help lower patient risk while in an inpatient psychiatric unit. However, the guide clarifies that installing these products will not eliminate all risks, and using the recommended products is not mandatory.
The NY OMH guide provides a selection of materials, fixtures, and hardware that the NY OMH has reviewed and supports for use within inpatient psychiatric units.
The PDF document is separated into 28 divisions and covers every aspect of architecture, including plumbing, HVAC, electrical, furnishings, and openings. The door hardware section is located under openings, with many pages of door hardware itemization as follows:
- Knobs and Paddles
- Handles and Levers
- Door Top Sensors
These guidelines apply to new construction and major renovation projects. In addition, existing facilities often use these guidelines as a reference whenever they make improvements.
State of the Art
The guide states that many of the items in the document represent the current state of the art. Their overall goal is to stay current, and when manufacturers develop more effective products, the guide is updated.
Furthermore, all products and systems included in the document have been tested for patient safety in conformance with OMH testing protocols. However, existing and newly built environments have a unique complexity that must be considered before incorporating any of the mentioned products. This especially applies to retrofit conditions.
Today, all psychiatric healthcare facilities, whether new or existing, must meet comprehensive accreditation standards that ensure minimal patient risks. These standards result in safe environments made from materials that can not be weaponized, provide sharp edges, or offer any ligature points accessible to patients.
The Role of Ligature-Resistant Door Hardware in Suicide Prevention
Alongside the evolution of the New York Office of Mental Health, door hardware manufacturers have been developing door hardware with specialized security solutions for use in behavioral units, psychiatric facilities, and other places of incarceration. The goal of ligature-resistant door hardware is to limit the possibility of personal harm.
The door hardware industry has invented and developed products to fill the need based on historical events and situational awareness. For example, exit devices were developed after locked doors caused hundreds of people to perish during a fire at a Chicago theater.
Also, as architecture for patients and prisoners in facilities has evolved to protect people from self-harm, the door hardware industry continues to provide new and existing products that help keep these individuals safe.
Initially, the door hardware’s term for these products was “anti-ligature,” with ligature defined as tying or binding. Today it is called “ligature-resistant” door hardware and is designed to limit the possibility of personal harm.
Another security feature of ligature-resistant hardware is a locking mechanism that controls the inside of the door and provides unrestricted access from the outside of the door. Plus, most exposed surfaces on ligature-resistant door hardware have sloped corners and resist the attachment of a cord-like object.
In closing, we have to mention that TownSteel was the first company in the industry to provide a ligature-resistant levered cylindrical lock — a big breakthrough in the industry. We have evolved into several generations of locks and offer five-point ligature-resistant locks, the standard for today’s industry and facilities.
A Hopeful Future for Suicide Prevention
With the help of organizations like NY OMH and the vast number of mental health agencies, hotlines, and facilities, along with progressive and effective styles of treatment available, there is hope.
Globally, awareness is at its highest point, and many workplaces and communities have adopted strategies to increase people’s ability to be part of suicide prevention. These include educating ourselves to recognize signs of mental distress, increase empathy, and improve our understanding of the suicide problem. Here in the door hardware industry, we will continue to do our part by providing Grade 1 ligature-resistant hardware to facilities across the globe.