By Jacob Bourne
A crowd gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on October 30 to rally in support of Mental Health SF, legislation co-sponsored by District Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney. If adopted, the law would grant San Franciscans with 24/7 access to resources including psychiatrists, social workers and medication, as well as create a centralized Mental Health Service Center and a new Office of Coordinated Care to follow patients through a treatment plan. Another vital aspect of the measure is a rapid response street team that will be dedicated to getting people with severe mental health conditions off the streets and into care.
“We’re tired of the status quo,” said Jennifer Esteen, a psychiatric nurse. “It was the workers who blew the whistle on the Adult Residential Facility crisis. Supervisors Ronen and Haney stood by our side when we fought for our patients. But we’re not done. We’re calling for a change to how San Francisco deals with its mental health crisis. The solution is Mental Health SF.”
Many nurses wearing scrubs alongside others who work in the health care industry stood together backing the legislation, including members of California’s long-term caregivers union SEIU 2015, National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), Professional Technical Engineers AFL-CIO Local 21 and SEIU Local 1021. These workers have been at the front lines of the city’s mental health crisis as they try to deliver care on a daily basis despite inadequate pay, a shortage of patient beds and not enough workers to meet the demand.
Mental Health SF comes in the wake of an attempt by the Department of Public Health to convert long-term care beds at San Francisco General Hospital’s Adult Residential Care Facility into short-term respite beds. After talks with unions and workers, the plan is to retain some long-term beds, which are critical in a city where 38 percent of people who have been treated in the only psychiatric emergency room available are discharged to the streets with no follow-up care. With a growing homeless population and 31,000 uninsured San Franciscans, the legislation is geared to grant comprehensive mental health care access to those who need it the most.
“We’ve worked with hundreds of mental health professionals to design this innovative overhaul that is desperately needed,” stated Supervisor Ronen. “I believe that frontline workers who are dealing with these problems every day have the solutions to the problem. That’s why we worked so closely with them to create Mental Health SF.”
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