New psychiatric care center to fill a need

A psychiatric care center planned in the South of Market area will be the first in The City to combine 24-hour crisis residential treatment with drop-in and outpatient services for patients needing urgent care.

Slightly fewer than half of the nearly 100 beds at the city-operated San Francisco General Hospital’s overflowing acute psychiatric unit are used by patients who could instead be treated at a community-based center, hospital spokeswoman Marti Paschal said.

Planning commissioners recently approved plans for the new community-based urgent-care center on Dore Street between Howard and Folsom streets that will provide 14 beds for patients needing more intensive crisis care.

Caring for patients in those 14 beds instead of at the hospital would save more than $4 million a year, based on figures confirmed by Paschal. Additional money would be saved by diverting up to 100 patients a week out of crisis-care hospital beds and into the drop-in urgent-care center, Paschal said.

A quarter of the teaching hospital’s funding comes from city coffers, Paschal said, with the rest coming from state funds, patient fees and private and public insurance.

“In hospital settings,” said John Nickens, a clinical psychiatrist at city-funded nonprofit Progress Foundation, which will run the new center, “you have abnormal interactions — you have people in uniforms, you have lines on the floor that people can’t cross, you have people separated from the daily activities of living. … That only exacerbates whatever kind of alienation and fear that they’re feeling.”

Nickens said the new center will provide more suitable care for some people suffering from conditions such as depression and psychosis, in which patients lose touch with reality.

“We’ll have therapy groups and we’ll have action-oriented groups, where people draw, people write, people exercise, people go on outings and people participate in the running of the house,” Nickens said.

Antidepressant, antipsychotic and sedative drugs would also be provided at the center, Nickenssaid.

The center is expected to be up and running by the end of August, Progress Foundation Executive Director Steve Fields said. He said he hopes to raise $1.3 million in grants to cover construction costs and is already halfway there.

The center will be the first in The City to combine urgent and critical care, San Francisco Department of Public Health Deputy Director Barbara Garcia said.

jupton@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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