Nancy Fisher | 24th Street
In the lulls between horrific incidents such as the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombings, the work quietly goes on. Gun control advocates attend meetings and write to their elected officials. The National Football League bans large handbags from stadiums and requires personal items to be carried, TSA style, in clear plastic bags. And closer to home, our own San Diego Board of Supervisors is honoring their promise to expand mental health services.
Initiated by Supervisors Dave Roberts and Dianne Jacob, county staff has been evaluating the effectiveness of existing voluntary outpatient programs compared to “Laura’s Law,” which would allow those with a proven history of refusing treatment, multiple hospitalizations, and posing a threat to themselves or others, to undergo court-ordered outpatient treatment. Laura’s Law, based on New York’s very successful “Kendra’s Law,” was signed into California law in 2002, but has been implemented only in Nevada County, which reports that the law has saved people from severe mental health deterioration and increased voluntary participation in mental health care -- findings that are consistent with the results of “Kendra’s Law.”
So what’s the catch? Some opponents fear a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” return to civil liberties abuses, when in fact the law’s stringent eligibility criteria and administrative requirements would ensure participants every opportunity to voluntarily seek outpatient treatment before being required, by court order, to follow an outpatient treatment plan (not commitment, as some mistakenly believe). Conversely, some feel that unless a judge can order a person to be locked up, the new law has “no teeth,” and others think existing programs, such as the In Home Outreach Team (IHOT), a county program in its pilot stage that does not include court-ordered treatment, is meeting the county’s needs. Funding, too, is an issue, as it’s being debated whether state funds can be used for involuntary programs.
For now, the Supervisors voted unanimously in August to expand the IHOT program while continuing to look into the merits of “Laura’s Law,” and to better understand possible sources of funding. This move disappointed some supporters of the law, but gave other supporters hope that the Supervisors are moving incrementally in the right direction.
Del Mar Deputy Mayor, Lee Haydu, a strong supporter of “Laura’s Law,” plans to work with the Supervisors in any way she can to find the best possible solutions to the county’s mental healthcare issues. “The advantage of Laura’s Law which is missing from all other programs,” she says, “is that friends and family can come forward to seek help for loved ones whose illness is a danger to themselves or others, and have them evaluated and treated. How many times do we have to hear another grief-stricken parent admit that they knew something was wrong with their child before we give them the tools to do something about it before another Sandy Hook?”