S.F. approves Laura's Law to ensure mentally ill receive treatment

 S.F. approves Laura's Law to ensure mentally ill receive treatment
Michael Sitton addresses the O.C. Board of Supervisors, which voted in May to implement Laura's Law. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to enact the measure, which permits courts to order treatment for some mentally ill people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 Tuesday to enact  Laura's Law, a program created by the state to compel  those suffering from disabling mental illness into outpatient treatment.

Tuesday's action follows similar moves elsewhere in California.  Yolo County adopted a program in January after a test run. Orange County signed on in May. Los Angeles County, which authorized  a voluntary pilot program, is set to decide next week whether to fully implement the state law.


"Today we changed the status quo in San Francisco," said Supervisor Mark Farrell, who introduced the legislation.  "By implementing Laura's Law, we are going to help the most vulnerable individuals suffering from mental illness across our city and provide the families the support they deserve."

Farrell said many academic and government studies show that such programs drastically reduce hospitalization and incarceration rates, length of hospital stays, arrests, suicide attempts, victimization and violent behavior.

Laura's Law permits courts to order treatment for those who have been hospitalized or jailed twice in the prior three years because of mental illness or those who have been violent to themselves or others or have threatened such violence during the past four years.

The orders can be obtained only for people who have refused voluntary treatment and have a "substantially deteriorating" condition.

San Francisco's program also requires the county mental health director to establish a "care team" that includes another person with mental illness, a forensic psychiatrist and a person who has a family member suffering from mental illness.

Voluntary treatment with the same level of outpatient services must be offered throughout the process and also made available to those who do not qualify for Laura's Law. Law enforcement could be summoned to take someone to a hospital only if the person were a danger to himself or others.

Relatives of the mentally ill strongly support the program, frustrated by myriad  failures to obtain psychiatric  care for loved ones who were too sick to seek it themselves. San Francisco police also support the program.

But behavioral health consumers have complained that it would infringe on their right to choose their own care.  Current laws compel treatment only for people who are a danger to themselves or others or who are gravely disabled and unable to care for themselves.

Barbara A. Garca, San Francisco's health director,  said she welcomed the new law but warned it would not resolve homelessness in the city. "Laura's Law will add another option for family members seeking to help a severely mentally ill relative," she said.

San Francisco supervisors will vote on Laura's Law a second and final time July 15.

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