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San Francisco Implements New Mental Health Conservatorship Law

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- California's new conservatorship law took effect Thursday with staff members in San Francisco's Public Health Offices are already working on its implementation.

However, city residents will probably not see any immediate changes on the street as the law begins to be enforced.

"Intervention," said Jessica Nogueras. "That's what it is. I mean we're in a mental health crisis. That's what it is, right?"

Just a few feet away from Nogueras, paramedics were responding to a man in apparently drug-related distress. But as of Thursday, the city will have a bit more power in to force the city's most troubled into some kind of treatment.

"I still know that as much as this is going to help, a decent number of people it still doesn't go far enough," said  San Francisco Mayor London Breed of Governor Newsom's signing of SB40.

While a previous conservatorship law might have applied to as few as a dozen people in San Francisco, this one might affect as many as 100, those who are routinely cycling through city services, whether their entry point is jail, or San Francisco General.

"This is certainly not a panacea. But it will support that small amount of individuals that you're talking about," explained Angelica Almeida, Ph.D. with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. "To be able to stabilize them, and get out of that cycle and keep them from deteriorating, help them engage in services."

Almeida is working to implement the new law for the city. And while is does give clinicians more leeway, the same number of incidents are still required before someone can be compelled into care.

"The eight involuntary holds, or 5150s," said Almeida.

"So that's 8 72-hour holds, but that's better than what we had before," explained Mayor Breed, saying the city previously had no means by which to compel someone into treatment. "We had absolutely nothing before."

The mayor's office has identified a pool of 4,000 individuals struggling with mental health and drug challenges. They are focusing on the 230 most critical of those. So this new law, maybe, could cut into that number. That is, if the city can successfully place them in treatment.

The law change comes as the mayor and several members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors wrestle over what mental health reform will look like in the city. That is a discussion that could very well end up on the ballot here next year.

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