San Francisco Chronicle Examines Adoption of Involuntary Mental Health Treatment Programs
Los Angeles County is the only county in the state that has implemented a program under a law (AB 1421) that allows court-ordered involuntary treatment for some people with mental illnesses, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Seligman, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4). The law, which took effect one year ago, authorizes counties to implement programs that allow the courts to oversee outpatient treatment of some residents with mental illnesses for up to six months. Counties that decide to establish the programs must provide teams of mental health professionals with staff-to-client ratios of no more than one to 10. The programs will serve patients ages 18 and older with recommendations from physicians that the patient requires supervision to survive safely in the community. In addition, patients must have undergone hospitalization twice in the past 36 months; have a history of non-compliance with treatment; committed or threatened to commit violent behavior; refused treatment; or have a deteriorating condition (California Healthline, 9/30/02). If those conditions are met, a relative, hospital director, parole officer or treatment provider can petition for forced treatment, and a person with a mental illness can dispute the petition in court. According to the Chronicle, Los Angeles County has implemented a "tiny pilot program" with 35 patient slots, but not all of the slots have been filled.
Mental health officials say that other counties have not implemented forced treatment programs because the costs are too high and because counties are not permitted to fund such programs with money earmarked for existing county programs and only are allowed to create forced treatment programs if they offer similar intensive services to people on a voluntary basis. In addition, officials say forcing people into treatment "remains emotionally and politically charged," and it is "not an issue they want to push," according to the Chronicle (Seligman, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.