SF Debuts New Initiative That Connects People With Mental Health Disorders to Available Services

The pandemic has opened up a chasm of mental health issues, as well as the need to destigmatize them and talk about these disorders without shame. In San Francisco, a brand-new program launched Friday aims to expand the city’s behavioral mental health resources and connect people with available services before they enter into an avoidable crisis.

The Office of Coordinated Care (OCC) was officially announced Friday afternoon as part of SF’s expansion of mental health and substance use services in the city. In a new release on OCC, it’s clear that the program’s main purpose is to connect case managers to people who are otherwise unable to access behavioral health services; OCC is also expected to play a key role in making transitions from one type of behavioral care to the next much easier.

According to the Office of the Mayor, people had little follow-up care and “experienced fragmented, or insufficient support and many times lacked a clear pathway to entering the behavioral health system” before the OCC. Mayor Breed worked in partnership with District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen and then-Supervisor Matt Haney to craft the legislation around Mental Health SF.

The launch of OCC sits in tandem with San Francisco’s strategy to address the city’s ongoing homelessness and overdose crises—both of which are intrinsically tied to mental health disorders. While the city has fumbled in a number of ways (ie the shuttering of numerous shorter-in-place hotels), initiatives like this do offer some hope that the future is better.

“We are working to fix a system that simply has not worked well for so many of those we see struggling in our city every day,” said Mayor Breed in a news release. “This requires both new resources but also reforming how we deliver services around mental health and substance use disorders. We want people to get the consistent support they need to heal and thrive, not to endlessly cycle through the emergency room, jail, or the streets. The Office of Coordinated Care will help get us on a better path.”

The OCC expects to manage around 4,000 individual cases — all of whom have mental health and/or substance use disorders — annually; the program also aims to help those communities historically underserved by the healthcare system because of social determinants like associated traumas and racism.

It’s a shift San Francisco is “desperately” in need of at this moment.

“This is the change we desperately need to get people out of crisis and linked to services,” said recently elected District 17 Assemblymember Matt Haney in the news release. “Past approaches too often left people dangerously disconnected and left many to languish and suffer from no treatment plan towards healing and recovery. We need to support and help those in crisis, not send them through an endless set of revolving doors.

Multiple local elected officials like Ronen have noted that the OCC will help ensure people receive the “intensive, ongoing, one on one support they need” that will save lives and help SF inch out of its many present dystopias.

For more information on Mental Health SF, visit sf.gov/information/mental-health-sf.

Related: SF Plans to Buy Four More Hotels to Shelter Homeless Population

Photo: A homeless man pulls a cart with his belongings on November 25, 2019 in San Francisco, California. The Trump administration could be preparing to replace recently dismissed executive director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness Matthew Doherty and deliver a new agenda to combat homelessness in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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