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Counties Look to Laura's Law as Mental Health, Violence Make Headlines

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Nevada County Courts play a part in helping people get treatment.
Nevada County Courts play a part in helping people get treatment.  | Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM/Flicker/Creative Commons License

A rather non-scientific, non-policy driven word comes up when talking about mental health care in California. Cracks. The word comes up in conversation with family members about the inconsistent care available to their loved ones; it surfaces at press conferences when politicians talk about fixing the current system; and in discussions with advocates about the work that still needs to be done. In an effort to begin work on filling some of these cracks, some counties are revisiting implementing Laura's Law.

Laura's Law, also known as AB 1421, was approved in 2002 and named after Laura Wilcox. A Nevada County Behavioral Health Department college intern, she was one of three who were killed by a man who was mentally ill and had refused treatment.

The law enacts assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), providing county behavioral health services for people with serious mental illness or deteriorating conditions. AOT is defined as outpatient services that have been ordered by a court.

In Nevada County, it is a process where family members, behavioral health counselors, and the court work together to find a treatment for the person in need. Between 2008 and 2012, the county found that by implementing the program they saved money, and also saw a 97 percent reduction in incarceration days in participants who had not had access to community services before the law.

43 individuals have been served under the law in the past year, according to Nevada County documents.

"Assisted outpatient therapy is very successful in reducing the revolving door of hospitalization, homelessness, and a variety of human tragedy that we have," said Carla Jaocbs, a board member at the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national organization. "It is a step, but it is not a panacea," she added, agreeing that there is a lot more work that needs to be done when it comes to mental health in California.

For years, many patients' rights organizations have been outspoken about the law impeding on civil rights and privacy.

And though the law has been on the books for 12 years, Nevada County was the only one to fully implement the law until this year. Last month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to implement the program after the Kelly Thomas controversy, followed by Yolo County's board in mid June. The law may also be put before voters in San Francisco.

Part of the new push may stem from a change in the law making funding accessible from the Mental Health Services Act, according to Laura's Law advocates. In 2013, a state bill specified that if a county wanted to implement Laura's Law, they may pay for the services using funds from the act.

"SoCal Connected" looked at Laura's Law last year after the Newton massacre in Connecticut:

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