Universal Mental Health System: San Francisco Proposes New System

William Kellogg
June 11, 2019
San Francisco

The residents of San Francisco will soon be able to  receive free mental health care and substance use disorder treatment under a proposed universal mental health care system which is aimed at being the first of its kind in the country.

The newly elected officials on the city’s Board of Supervisors, Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney will officially introduce their plan during Tuesday’s board meeting. Their plan, which they tagged “Mental Health SF,” would include a round-the-clock treatment center for any resident of the city in need of help, be it  Counseling for anxiety or emergency care to treat a psychotic episode.

“This system (Mental Health SF) will provide services to everyone from in need of help, from people who are insured but can’t get an appointment for two months… all the way to people that are living on the streets in crisis,” Ronen said.

Based on a survey carried out in  2016  by the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership, 23 percent of all San Francisco residents battle with emotional health. The issue was more pronounced  among low-class residents who were 2.5 times more prone to report “serious psychological distress” unlike  their richer counterparts.

Knowing fully well that the demand for mental health care services in the city is high, he said a lot of  residents, irrespective of their socioeconomic status are having lots of trouble finding a therapist.

The Public Health Department of San Francisco reports about 2,000 beds in its current system, which leaves a lot of residents with severe mental illness to live on the streets every day.

Ronen represents Supervisorial District 9. Her constituency covers  Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, location of the city’s only psychiatric emergency room.

“On a daily basis in our neighborhood, we see lots of people leaving the emergency room. Most of them still have their hospital bracelet on, often in their gowns, and are obviously in a daze, still suffering from mental illness but have been released right onto the streets to fight for themselves,” Ronen said. “One can’t keep watching this every single day and not feel that our mental healhth system is in shambles.”

$370 million is budgeted for  mental health care  every year in San Francisco and substance use disorder treatment, also investing in more than 300 other different programs.

 “Most of these programs don’t communicate enough about the patients they share”. Ronen said

 “Most times, people with severe mental illness or substance use illness may go for a particular program; it either work for thek or it doesn’t.  they’re subsequently forced to take another program. This is because  nobody is creating a linkbl between these programs to talk about what’s working, what’s not for this individual.”

In other to solve this issue, Ronen and Haney’s idea is based on the term “coordinated care.”

The center for treatment will comprise of an office space where social workers and case managers will work together to attend to past and present patients, Ronen said. Each patient will get a personal treatment plan, which will be distributed between the city’s existing programs.

“We’ll also  ensure health providers in different programs are in constant rapport  with one another,” Ronen said. “So, when we learn that one type of method doesn’t work for a particular patient, we won’t have to repeat it 500 times.”

William Kellogg

William Kellogg is a veteran writer who's covered the subject of the intersection of technology, health and mental wellness for nearly two decades.

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