San Francisco holds hearing on status of psychiatric care
SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — In San Francisco, a hearing was held Thursday to identify issues the county faces when providing mental health services. However, the meeting left a council supervisor with more questions than answers.
San Francisco District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman called a hearing to assess the city’s response to people in need of psychiatric help. Representatives from the Public Health Branch, the Hospital Board, and the Fire and Police Departments who all provide these services in various capacities explained the work they do and the challenges they face.
Lt. Mario Molina said the SFPD received about 47,000 related calls in 2021, but officers kept seeing the same people on the streets after they were taken to hospital. Heather Bollinger, of the union representing medical workers at the city’s only psychiatric ward – San Francisco General Hospital – says they are struggling to track and link patients to wards.
While DPH Human Resources insists there are only two vacancies for RNs, Bollinger says that doesn’t reflect reality. She read a list of recent ongoing complaints from SEIU 1021 members who say they are understaffed, overworked, and don’t have enough beds or security.
As a result, patients run away or become violent with staff and other patients. In 2014, a woman was assaulted by someone with a mental health issue after running into her bedroom.
“We have to find a way to break that cycle if we’re going to bring experienced staff into our department who are willing to stay,” Bollinger said.
Mandelman admits that while relatively new initiatives such as street-based crisis response teams and a new sobering up center have helped steer patients away from SF General, the system still falls short.
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“I just didn’t come out of this hearing confident that we’re measuring our different systems, criminal justice, public health, that we’re measuring what’s really going on in the world,” he said.
Mandelman wants to see more coordinated data collection and communication between all the agencies involved. Plus, he wants a new long-term care facility to offload the burden of general SF and reduce the number of patients who keep coming back for the same problems. He asks for a new hearing in the fall.