Tuesday, Jun 16, 2015
Christa Bigue
  • The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to enact Laura’s Law --  state legislation authorizing the courts to order outpatient treatment for individuals with a mental illness who may be a danger to themselves or others -- on a one-year trial basis.

    California legislators passed the Assisted Outpatient Treatment Demonstration Project Act of 2002, commonly known as Laura’s Law, but individual counties are required to approve its application. At Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said Laura’s Law will fill the gap between placing an individual under a conservatorship and those who aren’t receiving treatment at all.

    Laura’s Law permits courts to order treatment for those 18 years or older who suffer from a serious mental illness, are unable to survive safely in the community without supervision and meet at least one of the following criteria:

    • Been hospitalized two or more times in the last 36 months due to mental illness;
    • Demonstrated violent behavior toward themselves or others in the last 48 months;
    • Has been offered treatment on a voluntary basis and refused it;
    • Or, is deteriorating.

    In San Mateo County, the program will need approximately six to eight months to implement and will roll out incrementally over two fiscal years with an estimated price tag of $1,347,703, including $89,500 in one-time start-up costs, in the 2015-2016 fiscal year followed by $2,419,270 in Fiscal Year 2016-2017.

    The County will also offer treatment slots to individuals who meet Laura’s Law criteria and voluntarily accept services.  At full implementation, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services estimates at least 100 County adults living with mental illness could benefit whether the services are court ordered or voluntarily accepted.

    The Board’s vote in favor of the resolution came at the recommendation of the Health System which said the implementation experience of Laura’s Law in Orange County shows it can inspire a wider circle of people to seek aid.

    "We want to use every tool available to us to provide the services that our residents living with mental illness need to have fulfilling lives. If the passage of Laura's Law encourages more family members to reach out to us for help with their loved ones, then it will serve a good purpose,” Health System Chief Jean Fraser said. “Laura's Law is just one additional tool we can use to help people with serious mental illness live with dignity and purpose."

    Laura’s Law benefits not only those individuals but also their families and the community, according to the Board.

    County Supervisor Don Horsley, a former longtime sheriff who moved adoption of Tuesday’s resolution, said he viewed firsthand the positive outcomes of a program in which minor offenders were released from jail and ordered into treatment.

    “So, I know that when we have the ability to tell a mentally ill person that they must accept treatment or they will be ordered by a judge, most will voluntarily accept treatment. All the research then indicates that there will be a decrease in ER admissions, arrests and jail, suicides and acting out,” Horsley said.

    Laura’s Law is named after Laura Wilcox, a Nevada County mental health worker murdered by a psychiatric patient. Since its state passage, several counties have adopted the law including Orange, San Francisco Yolo, Los Angeles and Contra Costa.