L.A. County implements program to ensure mentally ill get treatment

Los Angeles County finalizes approval of Laura's Law, allowing court-ordered mental health treatment.

Los Angeles County officials gave final approval Tuesday to a plan to implement court-ordered intensive outpatient treatment for people with serious mental illness.

The Board of Supervisors approved a mental health services plan in July that includes implementing Laura’s Law, a state law adopted after a mental health patient launched a shooting rampage at a California clinic that killed 19-year-old employee Laura Wilcox and two others.

Tuesday’s unanimous vote came at the last meeting before Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina retire from county government. It creates 300 new treatment slots for people with serious mental health issues and allows hiring to begin for mental health workers to reach out to potential patients. In some cases, the county can seek a court order to require treatment.

Los Angeles County launched a small program soon after Laura's Law took effect in 2003, targeting patients with serious mentally illness for intensive outpatient treatment. But that program was strictly voluntary. 

Among other things, Tuesday's vote will now allow for court-ordered treatment of those who refuse voluntary programs.

The supervisors approved spending $1.6 million in state money to set up the program, including salaries for 18 mental health workers. They will form  two outreach teams that will assess patients referred by family members, law enforcement, treatment providers and others.

The program will cost an estimated $10 million a year when fully operational. Funds will come from a combination of state and federal mental health sources.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, the board's leading proponent of Laura's Law, said: "The outcome will be that people in need will be treated and returned to productive life."

Laura’s Law has been championed by advocates and family members of people with mental health issues, but some have criticized the new mandatory treatment rules, saying they take away patients’ rights. Some advocates have also expressed concerns that people of color will be disproportionately targeted for involuntary treatment.

County mental health officials have said the emphasis will be on getting those with mental illnesses into voluntary treatment programs. Taking them to court to force them into treatment would be a last resort, officials said. 

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.

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