MENTALLY ILL: Lawmakers Respond to Times Series
State lawmakers reacted swiftly to the Los Angeles Times series on the mentally ill, calling for more funding for care, improved tracking and closer attention to private asylum regulations. The series examined how California has failed to provide adequate services for its mentally ill residents, resulting in hundreds of mentally ill people who "end up incarcerated, in acute hospitals or locked private wards, homeless or dead." State Senate leader John Burton (D-San Francisco) said he might form a committee to examine the mental health system or "expand the work of an existing committee responsible for overseeing care of developmentally disabled and mentally ill people." Burton said that numerous citations and allegations of mismanagement of facilities caring for the mentally ill is "the type of stuff that pushes my button. There is nobody else looking out for them."
Other lawmakers also promised action. Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis) and state Sen. Don Perata (D-Alameda) said they will work next year to overhaul a 30-year-old law that hinders the state's ability to enter unwilling patients into treatment. Assembly Majority Leader Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) vowed to revive vetoed legislation next year that would increase oversight of nursing homes. Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) -- who recently introduced a law appropriating $10 million for three counties to provide services to the severely mentally ill -- intends to advocate that "citations against ... facilities be posted on the Internet so they will be more publicly accessible, that licensing requirements be strengthened, and that fines be increased when abuse or neglect of patients is found." He also wants to see better pay and training for Californians who work with the mentally ill. Steinberg said the LA Times series will bring new attention to the problems of the mentally ill. "This is an issue that is going to crest politically because many different people are recognizing mental health and mental illness as big quality-of-life issues," Steinberg said (Morain/Marquis, Los Angeles Times, 11/24).