Chronicle Urges Lawmakers to Establish Prevention and Treatment System for Mentally Ill
Noting that California has "neglected the severely mentally ill," a
San Francisco Chronicle editorial urges the state to "build a system of prevention and care." After it closed the state's mental hospitals in 1969, the California Legislature never funded community-based treatment centers that were intended to replace the hospitals, the editorial notes. "As a result," the editorial states, "the severely mentally ill began filling up jails, living on the streets and building encampments under bridges." The Chronicle notes that Assembly member Helen Thomson (D-Davis) last year introduced a bill that would establish an involuntary outpatient program. The bill "easily" passed the Assembly, but Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) blocked the bill, "fearing it might violate patients' rights." Burton then commissioned a study from the RAND Corp. to determine what initiatives have proven successful in other states. RAND released a report last month that found that both voluntary and involuntary programs "work well -- but only when the severely mentally ill are given comprehensive treatment." In addition, the report found that "nearly all of California's mental health officials and psychiatrists agree that the Legislature needs to make a new and sustained financial commitment to provide outreach and treatment." The editorial concludes, "The Legislature must act quickly -- not just in response to dramatic headlines that fill us with regret -- but to care for the severely mentally ill who, every day without fanfare, languish in prison, camp on the streets, or commit slow suicide at home" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/7).