Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Supervisors Pave The Way To Bring Laura's Law To San Diego County

supes.jpg
Supervisors Pave The Way To Bring Laura's Law To San Diego County
Supervisors Pave The Way To Bring Laura's Law To San Diego County
Supervisors Vote To Direct Staff To Come Up With Plan To Implement Laura's Law GUESTS:Dave Roberts, San Diego County supervisor Theresa Bish, a mental health advocate and former chair of the San Diego County Mental Health Board

This is KPBS Midday Edition on Maureen Cavanaugh. Today San Diego County moved one day closer to implementing Laura's Law. The Board of Supervisors voted to ask staff to implement a plan within the next 90 days. Laura's Law allows courts to mandate outpatient treatment for mentally ill people who refuse treatment. The state law has been on the books for 10 years but it's up to each county to adopt it. And Laura's Law has been the subject of controversy over both funding and disability rights concerns. During the right now are San Diego County supervisor Dave Roberts and Davis on the phone. Hello Dave thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. Teresa is here in studio she's former chair of the San Diego County mental health board. Now Dave as I mentioned this law was signed 10 years ago. Why is the county moving forward with it now? Like many laws passed in the state of California are optional if there is a financial cost involved. The only County that had adopted this law was Nevada County where the actual original situation occurred with Laura Wilcox. And over the years many counties have looked at this, state legislature has tried to provide funding thanks to Senator. Darrell Steinberg, many counties had challenges with it. I came to the Board of Supervisors almost 3 years ago, supervisor Dianne Jacobs said she wanted to work with me on mental health issues and ways to make improvements. We did an assessment of what was going on and we continued to add tools to our toolbox to give people options of how their loved ones could get mental health services. The mental health board at the County of San Diego recommended this step over two years ago, and finally the staff has brought this item forward now today for the board to vote for the one to establish implementation plan to put Laura's Law in San Diego County. .Teresa, Dave Roberts mentioned Laura Wilcox the 19-year-old girl who was killed by a mentally ill man, and whose death gave rise to this law. What kinds of situations is Laura's Law meant to address? Is meant to address a very finite population as far as this population must meet the criteria as stipulated in the law itself. These are individuals that have been known to the county for either a hospitalization and/or incarceration, and are not compliant with a treatment plan and are shown to be tipping on the verge of being homeless or perhaps being of harm to themselves or others. And so it's really meant to be preemptive. That gives rise to the controversy that you must let somebody degrade to the point of crisis before intervening. You have made the comment before in talking about Laura's Law, that this kind of law could actually relieve an awful lot of families who struggle on a daily basis. With a mentally ill family member. That there - - who resist treatment and they are very no options. There are not any options because the current legal structure has only allowed for the person to enter into being gravely disabled, or of harm to themselves or others. And so the parents of adult children must wait for that person to become - - to go into crisis. Consequently, Laura's Law provides that civil law structure as an overlay to assisted outpatient treatment programs that already exist. So that parents administrators, Lauren Forstmann, have a viable alternative for directing somebody into outpatient treatment which we know is effective and save taxpayer dollars. Dave Roberts what is meant by court mandated treatment? What would the mandate force people to do? Today we had over a dozen people come and tell individual families stories. What these people were talking about is when a loved one is in crisis. They have tried everything possible. Under this program that loved one could be compelled to go in front of a judge in the court and be ordered to take their medications to undergo treatment. To try to get them back in a right state of mind so they can then make decisions. This is really what the goal is of Laura's Law. It's an additional tool to help them get there. Many people say that this black robe effect will help them compel a loved one to undergo the treatment that they need or the medication that they need. Now Dave Roberts just said that people who were affected by Laura's Law, who were mandated IA court to go into treatment would be forced to take medication. They won't actually he forcibly medicated. No. That's a myth that has been perpetrated by opposition. Bear in mind assisted outpatient treatment is legal in 48 states. There is no force medication. People want to feel better, they want their quality of life to be better, and they want to have that hope of recovery and living out their full potential. Consequently, medication is a keystone to treatment and the influence then of the support groups under assisted outpatient treatment, people have been compliant for the most part with going along with prescriptions. And we know this because we have Nevada County as our pilot here in the state for full implementation as well as partial implementation by LA County. Now Elliott County - - LA County is moving to full implantation to. The Dave disability rights advocates and the ACLU were out your hearing today. They oppose this blog. They say it reinforces the stereotype that mentally ill people are violent and moves us closer to the battle days of involuntary commitments. How do you respond to those criticisms? I greatly respect everyone on all sides of the issue. My staff has met with the ACLU and specifically talked about this issue. I believe that if a person doesn't have the ability to make the decision they need to make, someone has to make it for them. There are many different ways this can happen. Whether it's to bring them in front of a judge, whether through conservatorship. I personally just became a conservator for a loved one. I have been through that process. Many people try to hold up these horror stories from the 20s and 30s here this is nothing to do with that. We actually had a letter submit it to the record by Eric Smith from San Antonio Texas who was in a similar Laura's Law program there. He resisted this. He wanted to make sure that his voice was heard because he said assisted outpatient treatment also known as Laura's Law contributed to him being able to enjoy his rights and freedoms as a healthy and productive member of society. In other words. He had to be hospitalized in order to get in a state of mind to get back on a road to recovery. That is what this is. It's a tool to help people get back on a road to recovery. It's one of many tools. We don't believe it's the be-all end-all, but it's one tool that might work for many San Diego and then we wanted as a Board of Supervisors the majority of us to give this tool to San Diego. Can you give us an example of a situation that would be helped by Laura's Law cut Teresa? Sure. There are many. There were public speakers coming forward they were adult child living at home but going off medication and have to go through the heart wrenching process of calling for a 5150 - - Which is a temporary mental health hole. And involuntary hold. If they've committed and involuntary felony they have to go to jail be treated in gel. It's got wrenching to have your loved one taken away in handcuffs. And to have to wait and see them get to that point. If there is no family member supporting that adult here in our County, they become homeless. We know the rates of homelessness here we know that we need to utilize every possible avenue in a supervisor in order to end the growth of homelessness in this county. I want to thank you both I've been speaking with San Diego County supervisor Dave Roberts. Teresa Bish is the former chair of the San Diego County mental health board. Thank you both for speaking with us today.

San Diego County Supervisors Consider Involuntary Treatment For Mentally Ill
Forcing people with severe mental illness to undergo treatment is controversial.

Update On Tuesday:

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4 to 1 in favor of directing staff to develop a plan to implement Laura's Law. Staff was asked to report back to the Supervisors in 90 days. Supervisor Bill Horn cast the only no vote, citing that it infringed on civil liberties.

Original Story:

Forcing people with severe mental illness to undergo treatment is controversial.

But the San Diego County Board of Supervisors will consider whether to do just that as they take up a measure called Laura’s Law.

The law is aimed at people with severe mental illnesses who refuse treatment, have a history of being hospitalized or jailed, and who pose a threat to themselves or others. It allows family members, doctors or cops to ask a court to order a person to have outpatient care.

California lawmakers approved Laura’s Law more than a dozen years ago. But each county must decide whether to implement it.

Michael Plopper, medical director at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, said Laura's Law is designed to help people get the care they need.

“And the purpose is to just prevent this continuing downward spiral of homelessness and incarceration, or multiple psychiatric hospitalizations for a person with a serious mental illness who doesn’t recognize that they have an illness," Plopper said.

Critics said by requiring people to undergo treatment, Laura's Law violates patients' rights. But supporters said it allows a person to argue their case before a judge.

Nevada County was the first county in California do to put the law into effect. The county's director of behavioral health, Michael Haggarty, said Laura's Law led to reductions in hospitalizations, incarcerations, and homelessness.

Corrected:
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Supervisors passed Laura's Law rather than the Supervisors directed staff to come up with a plan to implement Laura's Law.