If someone you loved was suffering from a serious mental illness, or seemed like they were on the verge of a psychotic breakdown, you might think you could turn to a psychiatric hospital for help. But in California, that might not do you much good. Institutions have the right to turn a person away unless they’ve been taken into custody. More than ninety percent of patients in California psych hospitals have dealt with police first.
San Francisco General is the city’s main public hospital, and also the main provider for the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. On an average day, about 20 people suffering from mental illness walk through its doors asking for psychiatric help. It’s often a last resort for people without a support system or anywhere else to turn. But ongoing state and city budget cuts have forced San Francisco General, like many other public hospitals in the state, to make tough decisions. The psychiatric emergency rooms have been hit the hardest.