Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, medical director for Psychiatric Emergency Services at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, will serve as San Francisco’s first ever director of mental health reform.
Mayor London Breed announced her appointment of Bland Wednesday afternoon at Dore House, a short term residential treatment program.
Bland, who will leave his current job to take the new position, will be tasked with assessing how San Francisco provides mental health and substance use services to homeless persons and to come up with proposed reforms.
“I want one person who is looking at the system so that we can change it,” Breed said to those gathered. She said his work includes “identifying gaps where improvement is needed and creating a data system so that we can measure our progress.”
Bland, who begins his position on April 8, will report to Department of Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax. Health officials could not provide Wednesday the cost impact to The City for Bland and his two-person staff, but on Thursday did provide those details.
“The cost of salaries for the three-person team is $547,609, which includes Dr. Nigusse Bland’s current base salary of $319,000, which is unchanged in the new position,” said Department of Public Health spokesperson Rachael Kagan.
“It is no secret we face serious challenges around mental health in our city, and while I am committed to expanding our mental health and substance use stabilization beds, we must also make sure that we are utilizing our limited resources effectively and not letting people fall through the cracks,” Breed said in a statement. “Dr. Nigusse Bland will bring his extensive history working in San Francisco’s mental health system to help us reform and improve our approach to getting people the help they need.”
Psychiatric Emergency Services at San Francisco General Hospital serves about 8,000 patients annually.
“From my vantage point at Psychiatric Emergency Services, I have seen people in crisis who are disconnected from care and resources in the community,” Bland said in a statement. “I look forward to working with community providers to develop a strategic approach to mental health and substance use services for people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.”
Bland continued, “While the system works well most of the time, I will be focusing on the gaps that leave some of our highly vulnerable residents at risk. What can we do to bend in their direction?”
Like Breed, Bland supports the expansion of The City’s power to force homeless people into treatment under Senate Bill 1045. Legislation to enact the conservatorship program is pending approval before the Board of Supervisors.
“I do think it’s important tool to be able to meet the needs of individuals that otherwise are not able to access care,” Bland told the San Francisco Examiner.
Homeless advocates are opposed to the program and argue The City should first improve voluntary services, which are inadequate to meet the demand.
Last month, he joined Breed and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in the announcement of creating a Methamphetamine Task Force to issue recommendations in the fall.
“These days, about half of our patients are experiencing methamphetamine intoxication, and come to us suffering from effects that can include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations and psychosis,” he said at the time. “We are looking for ways to extend their possibilities for recovery, and the meth task force will help us to identify needed services and treatment options.”
Breed had previously announced she planned to create this new position during her January state of the city address.