New Mental Health SF measure could be on ballot next March

San Francisco law makers are tweaking a mental health care measure before they put it before voters.

The supervisors who are writing the measure, say they're going to delay the vote to make changes to Mental Health SF so it can help those who need it most.

The supervisors said the compromises to the proposal, dubbed Mental Health SF, came after weeks of meeting with Mayor London Breed over concerns that she had about the proposal and the city's Department of Public Health.

"We heard from DPH and the Mayor and incorporated their feedback and suggestions," Haney said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we were never able to share these amendments directly because they abruptly ended our meetings last week."

Breed's office did not respond to a request for comment on whether the mayor supported the legislation with the announced changes.

San Francisco's mental health crisis has spilled over onto the streets of the city with some of the city's most mentally ill or addicted caught in a seemingly endless cycle from the streets to jail or emergency rooms, psychiatric care and then back out on the streets.

This is something San Francisco General Hospital emergency room nurse Heather Bollinger says she's seen first hand.

"Sometimes it feels very frustrating, just a revolving door. They come to the ER, we send them to PES, they leave PES and come to the ER. and they just go around and around and around."

Now Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney say the ballot initiative they'd originally hoped would be on the November ballot will be postponed so it can be reworked.

Originally the plan was to allow anyone in a mental health crisis to reach out for city services. Now, the lawmakers hope to narrow the focus on those who are chronically mentally ill and unable to get out of the cycle of the streets, jails and hospitals.

"Mental Health SF will now serve the uninsured," said Ronen. "[It] will serve those MediCal patients who have severe and serious mental illness and will serve any San Franciscan if they are very, very ill and on the verge of crisis."

Among the changes, the new measure would allow the city to recoup costs for mental health from insurance companies that aren't allowing patients to receive mental health care in a timely fashion and would create a new 24-hour mental health care hotline where San Franciscans could call if they see someone on the streets or elsewhere who is clearly in crisis.

"We decided that enough is enough," said Ronen. "The crisis on the street is so severe that the interventions we have in place right now are simply not cutting it."

The measure is expected to add an estimated $100 million to the city's current $400 million per year to care for the mentally ill.

The supervisors say the money will be recouped through increased efficiency in the system and through a proposed excessive CEO income tax they're pitching for 2020.

The mayor's office has expressed concerns about Mental Health SF saying any project that threatens to take resources or focus away from the mayor's comprehensive plan for housing and mental health care for the 4,000 who are most at risk, is a potential obstacle.

But, nurse Bollinger says she hopes a more comprehensive plan will help those in need. "If we continue to just act, just address the acute phase then we're not going to solve anything," said Bollinger.

San Francisco voters will get their say. The authors are working with the city's controller to work out details on the costs and funding. The measure is set to be placed on the March 2020 Ballot.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on Mental Health SF at a rules committee meeting on Oct. 30.

Bay City News reporter Scott Morris contributed to this report.