Crisis Care: The new mental institutions

Sonoma County has a chronic shortage of psychiatric hospital beds. As as a result, a growing number of mentally ill residents are ending up in local emergency rooms and in the jail system. A four-part series, run on four consecutive Sundays, examines the causes and ramifications of the current state of the county’s mental health system, and the people who are impacted the most.

Aug. 6 — Hospitals: The closure of two psychiatric hospitals in Sonoma County has left a gaping hole.

Aug. 13 — Jail: The Sonoma County Jail has become the largest psychiatric treatment facility in the county.

Today — Solutions: Sonoma County explores ways to improve services to people suffering from severe mental illness.

Aug. 27 — Your response: Readers share their stories about Sonoma County's mental health system.

Ongoing coverage:

Share your story

We want to hear about your experience with local psychiatric emergency services. What do you do when you or a loved one faces a mental health crisis? Have you or a loved one sat in a hospital bed waiting to be transferred to an out-of-county psychiatric hospital or other mental health facility? Have you or a loved one received psychiatric services in the Sonoma County Jail’s mental health unit? Please send a brief account of your experience to Martin Espinoza at

Voters in Mendocino County will get another shot at approving a sales tax increase to fund mental health and substance abuse services, after narrowly rejecting a similar measure last November.

This time, Measure B has broad support, including the approval of key county officials who opposed last year’s Measure AG.

The 2016 initiative was spearheaded by Sheriff Tom Allman, who was seeking money to build a psychiatric hospital that, among other things, would reduce the number of people with mental illness ending up in jail.

“As the sheriff said, B is for better,” said Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who opposed last year’s ballot initiative, saying it left mental health professionals out of the planning process and did not take into account the ongoing costs of staffing and services.

Measure AG, which called for a temporary half-cent sales tax to fund the development and maintenance of mental health facilities, fell 166 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for a tax increase.

Supporters had hoped the five-year tax would generate almost $35 million for the construction of a 16-bed psychiatric hospital, a 12-bed mental health crisis residential unit, a 12-bed alcohol-and-drug residential unit, a new mental health outpatient clinic and a facility for training police and mental health workers.

Measure B would impose a half-cent sales tax for five years. The tax would automatically decline to an eighth-cent thereafter, unless repealed by voters.

None of the funds from Measure AG could be used to pay for staffing or operations. Measure B funds can.

Hamburg said Measure B, which would generate about $7 million annually over its first five years, would not fix all of the problems with the shortage of mental health services in Mendocino County.

Hamburg said the county has no available money to expand mental health services or create new facilities. Funds generated by Measure B could be leveraged to obtain matching funds from various government grants.

The Board of Supervisors this month placed the measure on the November ballot. Last year, Measure AG was placed on the ballot through the signature process.

Measure B calls for the creation of a special Mental Health Treatment Fund that would be used for “mental health facilities ... to diagnose and treat mental illness and addiction.”

An 11-member citizen’s oversight committee that includes mental health experts and behavioral health officials would be formed to give recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on how to implement the ordinance.

This report was produced as a project for the California Health Journalism Fellowship, a program of the Center for Health Journalism at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.