The steady increase of mentally ill residents combined with Sacramento County's budget woes forced the county's main psychiatric hospital late Friday to close its doors to new patients.
The doors remained closed through Tuesday – and might stay closed for several more days, officials said, until its caseload falls.
Officials said the scene could repeat itself throughout the year as local and state funding continue their decline.
The situation, officials and advocates say, suggests the state is at the brink of a mental health catastrophe.
"I think that Sacramento County – like all counties in California – is facing a mental health crisis," said Dorian Kittrell, executive director of the Mental Health Treatment Center. "Unfortunately when (budget) cuts are needed, health care is often at or near the top of the list over and over again. And unfortunately, there's only so much a system can bear before it breaks."
The Mental Health Treatment Center handles the most severe psychiatric cases in the county. That's where police or concerned family members take people who pose a danger to themselves or others.
Caseloads have risen in recent years as the region's population has grown. The crisis center now sees about 590 patients a month, compared with 540 a month in fiscal year 2004-05, Kittrell said.
The admission rate from the crisis center to the inpatient unit has remained steady at almost 48 percent, he added.
The growth has pushed the treatment center – which has a capacity of 100 in its inpatient unit – to its limits.