Another troubling development at the city’s Behavioral Health Center

Under oath, a Department of Public Health official stated that a mental patient was allowed to cursorily skip 10 places on the waiting list for a psychiatric facility, and was rapidly admitted — despite having languished in jail for months while his attorneys were repeatedly told there was nowhere for him to go. 

The rationale for “prioritizing” the needs of Lamar Murry — but only after his public defender subpoenaed DPH administrators and demanded a placement review hearing — was “to get him out before this hearing, so we wouldn’t have to appear,” testified DPH placement coordinator Annette Quiett on Sept. 12.

This statement stunned onlookers in Judge Peter J. Busch’s courtroom, and, subsequently, mental health professionals throughout the city. 

Placements into city facilities are, ostensibly, based upon clinical necessity and an assessment of resources. And yet, Quiett confirmed that Lamar Murry was No. 11 on the waitlist for the city’s Mental Health Rehabilitation Center, confirmed 10 people had not been admitted prior to Murry, confirmed Murry was “prioritized for admission” — and then confirmed that the reason for this was to avoid having to appear before a judge to explain why he was still in jail, as mandated by a subpoena. 

“I had more questions prepared,” admitted Daniel Meyer, Murry’s public defender. But Quiett’s answer jarred him so much, he quickly stated he had no further questions. “Her answer was shocking in its honesty, but I’m deflated by what it means — it means Mr. Murry didn’t have to sit in jail this whole time.”

The Department of Public Health declined at press time to explain or discuss the matter, which it considered “private information about a patient.” Mission Local, however, obtained the transcript of the Sept. 12 placement review hearing for Murry with his consent.

The stark on-stand admission from Quiett prompts the question of just how the city is administering its mental health facilities at the Behavioral Health center on the San Francisco General Hospital Campus. 

A demonstrator at an Aug. 22 rally regarding the slated downsizing of the Adult Residential Facility posits a salient question to the city. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

The three-story structure, tucked away in a remote corner of the hospital’s sprawling campus, was thrust into public scrutiny last month when the mayor and Department of Public Health moved forward with plans to repurpose 41 permanent housing beds on the ground floor Adult Residential Facility into temporary shelter beds at a homeless respite. 

Questions regarding the prudence of that move led to the revelation that 23 beds were willfully left empty on the first-floor Adult Residential Facility, and 22 more were purposefully kept unused one floor up at the Residential Care for the Elderly facility (on the stand on Sept. 12, Quiett subsequently testified that the locked Mental Health Rehabilitation Center on the third floor was also operating at 10 beds below its capacity, even while Murry and other patients were spending months in jail because there were, ostensibly, no psychiatric facilities with capacity to house them). 

Many workers told Mission Local that management explained the empty beds by claiming that new patients could not be admitted because the facility was “on probation” with the state due to a bevy of safety citations. While those citations did occur, the probation claim is false — and, following our Sept. 2 article state licensing officials dropped by the site to inform management that they are not on probation and may admit new patients. 

The plan to fold the Adult Residential Facility into a shelter was on Friday “paused” by the Department of Public Health following intense public scrutiny from both the Board of Supervisors and the unionized mental health workers in the facility. 

But the plight of Lamar Murry, workers say, is indicative of the cascading problems induced by refusing to admit patients here. 

Nurse Jennifer Esteen, helming the Aug. 22 rally she co-organized. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

With the first- and second-floor facilities not taking patients, residents at the Mental Health Rehabilitation Center on the third floor couldn’t transfer downstairs — and were kept in a locked facility beyond medical necessity. What’s more, as in the case of Murry, men and women who’d been cleared for conservatorship in a locked psychiatric facility were, instead, left in jail for months. 

In addition to Murry, the public defender filed subpoenas regarding seven other clients who had been stuck in jail for between three and nine months, despite being cleared for residency in a mental health facility. All eight of them, per the public defender’s office, were placed in facilities within three weeks of those subpoenas going out — despite months of health department claims that no facilities were available for them. 

Three other public defender clients who’d been in jail for less time, and for whom placement review hearings weren’t demanded, were also rapidly moved out of jail and into mental facilities.  

Jennifer Esteen, a psychiatric nurse and member of the DPH transitions placement team — like Quiett — said that her colleague’s admission “reveals that there are arbitrary decisions being made.” 

“When beds are being held vacant,” she continued, “it means the system cannot move clients through it.” The sudden “prioritization” of Murry’s placement due to legal scrutiny “begs the question: Did we always have the resources? Do we need to send subpoenas to Department of Public Health leadership every week in order to get more people placed?” 

Lamar Murry Hearing Transcript by Joe Eskenazi on Scribd

Of note: on the legal transcript, the name is spelled “Lamar Murry.” It is spelled “Lamar Murray” elsewhere, and the man signs his name as “Lamarr.” 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. I want to see some heads roll over this. The cruelty to those in need, the outright lies and corruption show we need new leadership in this situation at the very least.

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