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San Francisco launches new conservatorship measures to help patients with mental illness

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell recently announced the addition of more conservatorship beds to help individuals who suffer from serious mental illnesses. He said with more than double the number of beds, there will be “real results” for ill patients.

The San Francisco Healing Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center received 54 new locked psychiatric beds. The beds are an effort to help people who are placed in conservatorship because they are unable to live independently due to their illnesses, but do not need constant hospital care. They provide an alternative to placing patients in out-of-county facilities, hospitals or jails.

State senators are also working on legislation to expand and strengthen California’s conservatorship laws. Conservatorships are currently limited to elderly individuals vulnerable to abuse as well as people with severe disabilities or cognitive limitations. The bill seeks to give counties more options to address homeless individuals who are trapped in a cycle of going in and out of jails, hospitals and other government services.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed also introduced a measure that decriminalizes mental health conservatorship. It puts the city attorney in charge of overseeing such cases instead of the district attorney.

Conservatorships may be needed in circumstances where a person is unable to make one’s own financial and health care decisions due to physical or mental incapacity. In California, a civil court judge establishes a conservatorship by appointing someone to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual. While a conservatorship may be necessary in some cases, it can typically be avoided if the person has previously signed an Advance Health Care Directive or Durable Power of Attorney.