California's Big City Mayors announce support for mental health reform laws
Mayor Todd Gloria and several mayors of the state's largest cities announced support for a Stockton legislator's bills to update California's conservatorship laws on Wednesday.
The California Big City Mayors, a bipartisan coalition of mayors of the state's 13 most populous cities, offered its full support of two bills authored by Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) intended to "make it easier for severely mentally ill people to get the help they need."
The first bill, Senate Bill 43, would change California's LPS conservatorship law by updating the criteria for determining if a person is "gravely disabled," the standard for conservatorship eligibility.
"A frustrated San Diego father came to me just days ago and told me about his severely mentally ill son, a college graduate who's oblivious to his own illness," Gloria, chair of the Big City Mayors, said Wednesday during a meeting in Sacramento. "He has bounced between psychiatric hospitals, become addicted to opiates and is now languishing in jail, not getting the help he needs.
"This story is far too common in our state, with emergency response becoming the only way people struggling with mental health and addiction can access care," he said. "We must act on conservatorship reform for the thousands of families who struggle to get their loved ones life-saving health care."
Proponents of the legislation say the current focus of the LPS Act on the ability to provide for one's food, clothing and shelter fails to address the "real needs" of desperately ill people and often leads to their criminalization and jail rather than treatment.
Eggman's first bill would update the definition of "gravely disabled" to include the potential for serious physical and mental harm stemming from a person's inability to provide for their own nourishment, personal or medical care and appropriate shelter, as well as an incapacity to attend to their self-protection or personal safety due to a mental health or substance-use disorder.
"Mental health issues and substance abuse are common reasons Angelenos fall into homelessness and remain unhoused," Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said. "Right now, our city's largest mental health facility is the Los Angeles County Jail. We cannot solve this crisis until we have an adequate system to help people who are suffering — we must answer with hope."
The second bill — Senate Bill 363 — would establish a "real-time, internet-based dashboard to collect, aggregate and display information about the availability of beds in a range of psychiatric and substance-abuse facilities," according to Big City Mayors.
According to proponents of the bill, an up-to-date database of available beds helps providers quickly find and secure treatment for clients in appropriate settings, reducing delays and extended stays in emergency rooms.
"After meeting with a conservatorship attorney, my friend learned that her hands were tied by our current laws because her sister Becky did not fit the criteria for gravely disabled," said Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson. "Ten days later, Becky committed suicide in her tent, abandoned by our current system. We cannot let this norm continue.
"These bills will make it easier for families to get their loved ones help and protect others who are loved and need our help," she said.