SAN FRANCISCO – Today, by a 9-2 vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to pass Supervisor Mark Farrell’s legislation that will fully implement Laura’s Law in the City and County of San Francisco.
“Today we changed the status quo in San Francisco,” stated Supervisor Mark Farrell. “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. I am incredibly proud of this legislation.”
Laura’s Law is a California state law adopted in 2002 that provides community-based, assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for individuals who – as a result of their mental illness – are unable to access community mental health services voluntarily. Laura’s Law is named after Laura Wilcox, a mental health worker in Nevada County who was tragically murdered by a mental health client she was helping to provide treatment for.
Supervisor Farrell also introduced amendments that were accepted unanimously at the Rules Committee meeting on June 23, 2014 – where the legislation was heard - after working with community mental health advocates and his colleagues at the Board to strengthen his legislation and ensure Board approval.
The amendments to the legislation will create a CARE team that will consist of: a forensic psychiatrist who will be responsible for the clinical evaluation of the potential patient; a peer specialist, who will be a person with mental illness, who can provide lived experience to help the potential patient engage into treatment; and a family liaison who has had a family member with mental illness, who can help provide lived experience to educate the CARE team. The establishment of the CARE team will maximize all opportunities to engage individuals who meet Laura’s Law criteria into voluntary treatment.
Additionally, the amendments provide a pathway to ensure that individuals referred under Laura’s Law who do not meet the Laura’s Law criteria are evaluated for, and connected to, the appropriate level of mental health treatment.
“Laura’s Law is not a panacea for mental health treatment here in San Francisco, but another tool in the tool box for our City to help those suffering from a clinically identified severe mental illness,” said Supervisor Farrell. “Most importantly, Laura’s Law will provide appropriate treatment services for our most vulnerable residents, reduce hospitalization and incarceration rates, and improve public safety for our residents and visitors. This is a win-win for San Francisco.”
Laura’s Law provides a strict list of eligibility requirements for participation and is explicitly intended for individuals who are in crisis or recovering from a crisis caused by severe mental illness and for whom voluntary services are, unfortunately, not working.
Numerous academic and government studies of AOT show that it drastically reduces hospitalization and incarceration rates, length of hospital stays, arrests, suicide attempts, victimization and violent behavior. For example, studies on New York State’s AOT law – Kendra’s Law – showed that among individuals under AOT in the community that: 74 percent fewer experienced homelessness, 77 percent fewer experienced psychiatric hospitalization, 83 percent fewer experienced arrest, and 87 percent fewer experienced incarceration. AOT has proven to be an effective form of treatment while also helping jurisdictions improve public safety and realize cost-savings over time.
San Francisco will be able to receive additional funding through the State’s Mental Health Services Act that was recently amended by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg in 2012 to explicitly state that AOT is eligible for MHSA funds. Laura’s Law will help San Francisco to make more effective use of existing resources to help treat those with mental illnesses.
Laura’s Law will now head for its second and final vote at the July 15, 2014 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.