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Legislation for the Mentally Ill

During his last 10 years in the Legislature, I served as Assemblyman Frank Lanterman’s administrative assistant. We had many discussions about the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act.

Lanterman had visited mental health hospitals and was appalled at what he saw. He knew of specific cases of families “putting away” Uncle Charley so they could get his money; husbands committing wives to eliminate the expenses of divorces. The commitment procedures had to be tightened.

The plan for the community health centers that would dispense the necessary medication for former patients was “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” As time went by it became apparent that the system wasn’t working. A mentally well but physically ill person will take medication to make him well. A mentally ill person, all too often, will not.

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The intent of the law was excellent. As often happens, the implementation was poor. Just two cases in point: A former patient was lying in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard. The young man was picked up by the police and driven to Covina where he was dropped off. On behalf of his family, I called the appropriate police station. I was told, “There’s too much paper work involved with LPS.” When another out-patient wrecked the interior of his family’s home and threatened his mother, we tried to have a psychiatrist from Metropolitan State Hospital appear in court to testify that the man should be hospitalized for a longer period. No psychiatrist would take the time to go to court. The jury released the man. My files are full of similar cases.

One of Frank’s and my last conversations is burned deeply in my memory. Frank Lanterman, the irascible curmudgeon with a heart of gold, had tears in his eyes when he said, “I wanted the LPS Act to help the mentally ill. I never meant for it to prevent those who need care from receiving it. The law has to be changed.”

California’s father of mental health didn’t live long enough to change it, but I know in my heart he would approve of anything that could be accomplished that would result in the humane treatment of these special people. It must be done now!

ELAINE DEWEES

Pasadena


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