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SF develops tool to track available mental health, substance abuse beds

San Francisco health officials announced Tuesday the creation of an online system that will allow the public and service providers to track availability of behavioral health beds citywide.

Officials report that approximately 4,000 of The City’s homeless population suffer from mental illness or substance abuse disorders. The bed inventory tool is part of the Heal Our City initiative driven by Mayor London Breed and supported by Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, director of mental health reform at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in response to that reporting.  

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Mayor London Breed announced a new initiative to help the most vulnerable homeless individuals suffering with a mental health illness or substance abuse disorder at a press conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.

The online tool will allow anyone seeking care to view “real-time” availability of the 350 short-term behavioral health beds at several community organizations, according to a statement issued by Breed. 

City officials said the new online tool will launch in two phases. The first phase will track 200 substance abuse beds and the second phase will launch shortly after and will include 150 short-term beds mental health beds. The inventories will be posted on the DPH SF Health Network website and both are expected to go online in November. 

Mayor London Breed said in a statement:

“When someone is experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and a substance use disorder, the last thing we should be doing is making it more complicated for them to get the care they need. With this real-time data, we’ll be able to connect people more efficiently with available treatment beds, make better use of our existing resources, and identify opportunities for improvement in our existing system of care.”

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Supporters of the Mental Health SF program rally in front of the City Hall steps in San Francisco, Calif., May 28, 2019.

Supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen, who are pushing a mental health initiative for the November ballot, do not believe the tool goes far enough to address the needs of people in crisis. Following Tuesday’s announcement, Ronen said:

“I think it shows the sorry state that our mental health system is in that the Mayor and Dr. Bland are proudly announcing that they are finally going to start doing a basic fundamental requirement of any health department, which is to count how many beds are sitting empty while people with severe mental illness go untreated.”

Nigusse Bland explained in a statement that the behavioral bed tracking system is just one tool The City is utilizing. Nigusse Bland said:

“We want to make the best possible use of the substance-use and mental health treatment resources that San Francisco already provides, and to make data-driven decisions about where we need to add services.”

Those seeking care for themselves or others will be able to find contact and application information through the online inventory system when it launches in November. 

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