SAN DIEGO – At the urging of supervisors Dianne Jacob and Dave Roberts, the county’s top elected officials voted March 19 to study Laura’s Law as they look for additional ways to help the severely mentally ill.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to weigh the law, which allows for involuntary outpatient treatment for the mentally ill who resist help, against the county’s current voluntary approach.
The county’s In Home Outreach Team program, or IHOT, provides voluntary home outreach to adults who have previously refused services. Other county-run behavioral programs include a psychiatric response team and a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing the stigma tied to the mentally ill.
“San Diego County has a lot to be proud of when it comes to addressing mental illness,” said Jacob, the board vice-chairwoman. “But we need to always ask ourselves: Are we doing enough? Do we need to modify our approach to make sure we are reaching as many of the mentally ill as we can?”
“It is important that the county examine our care options to make certain we are doing all that we can for the mentally ill, their families, and for the protection of the public,” Roberts said. ”We must have the ability to keep someone from harming themselves or others.”
Laura’s Law, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2002, allows for court-ordered outpatient treatment for the mentally ill who refuse medication and are unable to make rational decisions.
Nevada County is the only county in California that has implemented Laura’s Law. San Diego County is among those that have created voluntary programs in recent years.
IHOT was started as a three-year pilot program early last year in the hopes of reaching a larger pool of high-risk individuals than served under Laura’s Law, due to the narrow eligibility criteria under the law. On March 19, the supervisors asked county staff to analyze the two programs and return to the board within 90 days with recommendations.
The county’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, or PERT, assesses the mentally ill who find themselves in situations involving law enforcement. Last year, the county launched “It’s Up To Us,” a public awareness campaign designed to shed light on mental illness and to reduce the stigma behind it.