Sacramento County's mental-health system in disarray, says grand jury

Strain on cops, ERs caused by ‘pattern of troubling decisions’

Spiking suicide rates, a doubling of jail inmates with mental illness and a revolving door of patients in psychiatric facilities are the result of Sacramento County's failing mental-health system, according to its grand jury.

In a scalding report released June 24, the grand jury blamed 2009 budget cuts that eliminated half of the county's inpatient treatment beds and closed its centralized intake center as the primary causes of a deteriorating system. Citing what the report called a “pattern of troubling decisions,” the grand jury claims the county also mismanaged funds and ignored an ominous 2011 independent expert review that found cracks in the system.

The county's retraction from providing mental-health services shifted that burden to law enforcement and already-strained emergency rooms, says Lt. Santos Ramos of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. Residents rely on 911 to request help for someone experiencing a mental-health crisis. Officers take these individuals to local ERs, where a medical evaluation averages one-to-two hours instead of the five minutes it took officers to drop someone at the county's intake center, he said.

That means fewer officers on patrol.

The grand jury admonished the county to utilize care systems that don't break the bank and re-establish a 24-hour intake facility along with other pre-2009 programs.

In other grand jury findings, the jury blasted the city of Citrus Heights for “chronically and systematically” mishandling its red-light camera systems; chastised the Twin Rivers Unified School District for violating open-meeting laws in its appointment of board trustee Sonja Cameron; and cleared the Sacramento Fire Department in a narcotics investigation that alleged drug theft and tampering.

County representatives declined comment until they could review the report.