Webinar: Responding to a High-Profile Tragic Incident Involving a Person with a Serious Mental Illness
On March 2, the National Reentry Resource Center, in conjunction with the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project, announced they’re sponsoring a Webinar to present the, “toolkit for responding to tragic incidents involving a person with serious mental illnesses,” that’s been released by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The toolkit comes in response to the need to, “help policymakers better anticipate and respond to (these) events,” such as the tragic death of Laura Wilcox in California.
- Dr. Lorrie Rickman-Jones, Director of Mental Health for the Illinois Department of Human Services
- Dr. Fred Osher, Director of Health Systems and Services Policy for the Council of State Governments Justice Center
- Mr. David Miller, Project Director for the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
Date: Thursday, March 10, 2011
Time: 2:00-3:15 pm E.T.
To register for this event, please click here.
Laura Wilcox was murdered in 2001 by a mentally ill client who entered her building for his scheduled appointment; but without warning pulled a gun, beginning his shooting spree.
The disordered patient at the outpatient clinic succeeded in killing one person and injuring two, in addition to slaughtering Laura.
Under Laura’s Law, this shooting spree could have been avoided because Laura’s shooter could have been committed to involuntary treatment due to his likeliness of becoming a threat; rather than this intervention occurring after threats had been carried out.
The rampage, which extended to a next-door restaurant, was the type of scene California has seen once too often. In some cases, family members of a mentally disordered person have phoned treatment facilities or law enforcement agencies pleading that something be done to prevent their loved one that’s behaving abnormally to keep from harming someone before it’s too late.
Sadly, intervention has come only after people have been hurt and the threat of violence has turned out to be true. Shockingly, these tragedies no longer need to occur because current California law allows court-ordered treatment in the community, often called “assisted outpatient treatment” or “outpatient commitment,” but only in counties that have passed a resolution to implement Laura’s Law. Laura’s Law, however, has so far only been implemented by one California county.
“Laura’s Law was passed in 2002. The state left it up to each county to implement the law to prevent tragedies like the death of Laura Wilcox. Laura’s Law authorizes the use of court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment ,” something Laura’s parents say is, “a proven tool that allows for the sickest patients to get help before it’s too late.
By providing assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) to those too sick to seek treatment, Laura’s Law creates an effective tool for people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia to get help before they become a danger to themselves or others. Multiple independent studies document that laws, like California’s Laura’s Law, stop the revolving door that spins people in and out of hospital emergency rooms and jails, reduces the public cost involved in high-cost intervention, and addresses numerous other consequences of non-treatment.
Tragedies like that which happened to Laura Wilcox continue to threaten the public in counties where Laura’s Law has not been implemented due to the challenges of getting a person involuntarily committed in California. The problem is that California still uses a treatment standard based primarily on a person’s likelihood of being dangerous instead of using a more progressive “need for treatment” standard as in many states (Treatment Advocacy Center ).
Despite the fact that, “state law establishes civil commitment procedures and standards for court-ordered treatment in an inpatient (hospital) or outpatient (community) setting, getting a court order allowing someone to be forced into treatment is difficult.
People attempting to get court-ordered treatment for a loved one in California unfortunately discover that, “for inpatient care, there must be (1) a danger to self/others or (2) inability to provide for basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter,” and the process of proving a loved-one meets these criteria frequently fails to accomplish the inpatient admission being sought.
Laura’s Law has the power to change this, making court ordered treatment obtainable for those living in counties that implement Laura’s Law. “For outpatient care in counties that have adopted Laura’s Law, the individual must have a condition likely to substantially deteriorate; be unlikely to survive safely in community without supervision; have a history of noncompliance that includes two hospitalizations in past 36 months;act/threaten/attempt of violence to self/others in 48 months immediately preceding petition filing; be likely to need treatment to prevent meeting inpatient standard; be likely to benefit from assisted treatment” (Treatment Advocacy Center).
Since Laura’s Law passed in 2002, a stalemate has existed because the only county to implement Laura’s Law is the county in which she was murdered. In that county, “Its immediate success in convincing some individuals with untreated mental illnesses that they were in need of treatment and saving taxpayer dollars in the process led the California Association of Counties to give Nevada County one of its 2010 Challenge Awards for innovation and creativity in government,” according to the Treatment Advocacy Center Website.
San Francisco came close to implementing Laura’s Law, but then a man named Dr. Mitch Katz counseled the San Francisco Board of Supervisors about the pros and cons of this measure based on his own misconceptions. Dr. Katz is the Director of Public Health; but what he communicated to the board was erroneous information about certain aspects of Assisted Outpatient Treatment. Dr. Katz was under the mistaken notion that a Laura’s Law was a measure that should be considered useless due to what he assumed to be true about California’s laws regarding court-ordered medication.
Dr. Katz did not realize that, in California, the Riese Law was passed that resulted in the establishment of a separate court procedure required to challenge objections over medication. But Dr. Mitch Katz counseled the Board about Laura’s Law, stating that, “Laura’s Law offers no potential for effective treatment because it fails to make it easier to forcibly administer drugs when patients don’t comply with treatment orders.”
Had Laura’s Law been implemented in San Francisco, this August 3, 2010 resolution would have “provided court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment to people with serious mental illness. Assisted outpatient treatment is a proven game-changer for the small but deeply troubled population whose inability to accept voluntary services dooms them to shuttle endlessly between jail, hospitals and the streets. In New York and elsewhere, assisted outpatient treatment restores lives, saves money and improves public safety. Signs that San Francisco might finally be ready to reap these benefits had buoyed the hopes of many heartbroken families and frustrated caregivers.” according toBrian Stettin.
Brian Stettin is a former New York assistant attorney general who believes that Dr. Katz failed to understand that the effect of New York’s River’s hearing is the exact equivalent to the Riese hearing existing in California.
The River’s and Riese hearings both pertain to the subject of forced medication. In an August 17, 2011, article written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Stettin explains that, “in both states, this forecloses any possibility of integrating forced medication into assisted outpatient treatment.” But Dr. Katz mistakenly told the Board of Supervisors that Laura’s Law was doomed to be ineffective because it failed to allow for forced medication.
Dr. Katz’s misconceptions about Assisted Outpatient Treatment which he communicated to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors were likely to discourage the Board from adopting Laura’s Law. So the measure was withdrawn in order to keep it from being rejected.
Now that I know about Laura’s Law, I know there is hope for many of the homeless in my neighborhood; if only San Diego County will pass a resolution to implement Laura’s Law of 2002. Can we make this happen, or do we wait until the next tragedy occurs due to our refusal to acknowledge the plight of the mentally ill in our community?