Yvette Green, 57, an IT project manager who has spent her life in East Harlem, complained that “there was no community engagement. None. They didn’t have discussions. Be willing to work with the people who live here.”
A city health department study by Rebecca Giglio, a deputy chief of staff, found that early, sustained community engagement has been critical to the sites’ success and mentioned “general educational briefings with local community groups and leaders” held last fall.
But emails and recorded community board meetings show that East Harlemites were never explicitly told that the center was coming. “The public was denied a meaningful, transparent dialogue,” said Santiago, “and that eroded our trust.”
On September 12, Michael McRae, the health department’s acting executive deputy commissioner for mental hygiene, came to a Community Board 11 meeting to answer questions. But attendees said they found McRae’s answers evasive and were frustrated to hear the same talking points they’ve seen in press releases.
McRae acknowledged that East Harlem’s opioid-related death rate “is not the highest in the city, but it’s undeniable that it’s an area of concern,” adding that the health department “wants to see this as a citywide strategy. We want to grow the OPC work.”