SF General Hospital nurses claim psychiatric unit state of emergency

Dozens of doctors, nurses and health care workers gathered outside San Francisco General Hospital Thursday with charges that the psychiatric unit is in a state of emergency.

"That means people having mental cases like suicide, hallucinations or schizophrenia they need to be sent to another hospital," said psychiatric nurse Jeanette Conley.
     
Conley says the unit frequently diverts mental health patients to other hospitals because of staffing shortages.
  
She says often emergency patients can't get admitted to the hospital because there's no room; leading to patients going under treated or not treated at all.
   
"These patients a lot of times come from tent cities and different areas of the city," said Conley.

The rally was organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 which is negotiating a new contract.

The union says this past January, the psychiatric unit was diverting patients to other hospitals, 34 percent of the time. That's double what it was the previous year.
       
"The patients stuck in the psych emergency room can't move up to the psych floors which are full. And the floors can't discharge patients to proper placements because of a lack of beds," said Conley.

Nurses say there are also shortages in the emergency room. They say they fear when the new emergency room opens next month they will be forced to treat more patients, but with the same amount of staff.
 
"We're holding patients longer in emergency rooms longer than we need to. They should be going upstairs in the hospital but we don't have the staff to admit the patients," said emergency room nurse Will Carpenter.

The San Francisco Public Health Department issued a statement disputing that psychiatric care is in a state of emergency stating in part:

"We do have gaps in our system of psychiatric care and we are working hard to fill those. They are primarily in the area of non-acute hospital care."

The nurses say they plan to appeal directly to city hall and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee next month to add more staff.