SF to implement state's CARE Court program to treat severe mental health disorders

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Thursday, September 28, 2023
SF to implement new CA to program to treat mental health disorders
San Francisco will be one of the first California counties to implement the CARE Court program to push those with mental health issues into treatment.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco will be one of the first seven counties in California to implement the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment also known as the CARE Act.

This state law is set to help individuals with mental health disorders access care and housing.

Under CARE Court, a range of individuals can file a petition for someone in need to get mental health help.

"CARE Court is really an opportunity to support individuals with untreated mental illness in the community and provide community based treatment," said Dr. Angelica Almeida, San Francisco's Dept. of Public Health, "CARE Court allows for a wide range of petitioners including first responders, family members, somebody who lives with an individual who is worries about them and those can get filed directly with the court."

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San Francisco's Department of Public Health says the program will help them tackle mental health differently with potentially thousands on the streets qualifying.

"When we look at the program, one of the criteria's that somebody has to be suffering from schizophrenia spectrum diagnosis. When we look at the population estimate, our best range estimate right now, is at roughly 1,000-2,000 in San Francisco may meet the criteria," said Dr. Almeida.

Even though participation in the program is voluntary, judges have a strong influence. Tal Klement, Deputy for the San Francisco Public Defender's office Mental Health Unit said they are preparing to represent many in court.

"It's voluntary in that the court cannot force you to take medications or put you into a locked facility but you are still having to come to court. The court is still going to order a treatment plan for you. So there is that aspect of it that can be somewhat coercive," said Klement, and added, "If you are not successful in CARE Court. It can be used in future proceedings to put you into a locked facility and conserve you. Make you a conserved person."

The Mental Health Association of San Francisco opposes CARE Court.

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"Seventy-five percent of folks who are approach who have serious mental health illness about assisted outpatient treatment are more than willing to participate in some type of assisted outpatient treatment and forced treatment is basically taking folks civil liberties away. Forcing them to do things they may not understand," said Erik Henriques, director of peer services for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco.

San Francisco has about 2,500 mental health and substance use disorder treatment beds and are adding more but mental health advocates say that's not enough.

"There is only a few hospitals in the city that do have psychiatric hospital beds. There is really not that many for all the need that may be out there," said Henriques.

The court can fine the city and county if they don't provide the necessary help and beds for people who need services.

The CARE Act was passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom a year ago. It goes into effect in October.

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