SAN FRANCISCO –Supervisor Mark Farrell will formally introduce an initiative ordinance at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting for the November 2014 general election that would fully implement Laura’s Law within the City and County of San Francisco. Supervisors Scott Wiener, Katy Tang, and London Breed are co-sponsoring the measure. Supervisor Farrell will also introduce identical legislation at the Board of Supervisors in an attempt to pass Laura’s Law at the Board. If passed at the Board of Supervisors before August, Supervisor Farrell will remove the measure from the November ballot.
“There are individuals who are suffering from severe mental illnesses that are falling through the cracks of our City’s current mental health services system, and we owe it to those individuals, their families, and our residents to provide the best care possible,” stated Supervisor Mark Farrell. “Laura’s Law will be another tool to help those with a clinically identified severe mental illness, and will provide compassionate, community-based mental health treatment services for the most vulnerable in our City.”
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.
“We appreciate Supervisor Farrell’s efforts to bring assisted outpatient treatment to San Francisco. The success of Laura’s Law is clear – it gets people with severe mental illness engaged in treatment; it saves lives and saves money. Laura’s Law is the right thing to do,” stated Amanda and Nick Wilcox – the mother and father of Laura Wilcox.
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 mental illness and for whom voluntary services are, unfortunately, not working.
“Laura’s Law will provide appropriate treatment services for our most vulnerable, reduce hospitalization and incarceration rates, and improve public safety for our residents,” stated
Supervisor Mark Farrell. “If we are truly serious about helping the most vulnerable in our community and ensuring that they are put on a path towards recovery and success – San Francisco cannot afford to stay idle anymore.”
“The proof is what we see on the streets every day in our City with too many people dealing with serious mental health issues like schizophrenia, often self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. That is why we need to do more, and change how we help those who are clearly suffering, and who cannot help themselves,” said Mayor Ed Lee. “These hard-to-reach individuals oftentimes do not steadily access treatment until they are compelled to do so through the criminal justice system, so I’m grateful that Supervisor Mark Farrell, Public Health Director Barbara Garcia, and a growing number of mental health experts and homeless advocates have endorsed this approach. Laura’s Law gives our City the ability to engage people into treatment before they are in crisis. And we must provide care before it comes to that, and the new CARES initiative will strengthen our current behavioral health system of care for those that need it the most.”
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.
"Currently, many of the acute psychiatric admissions at San Francisco General are associated with the patient having unilaterally stopped outpatient treatment; this is also a factor in many of the 7,300 annual visits to Psychiatric Emergency,” stated Dr. John Rouse – Attending Physician, San Francisco General Inpatient Psychiatry and Psychiatric Emergency Services. “Assisted outpatient treatment has the potential to reduce hospital visits significantly for some of the highest users of emergency services, and to improve their quality of life."
San Francisco will be able to receive additional funding through the State’s Mental Health Services Act that was recently amended in 2013 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.
To date, the initiative ordinance has the support of Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisors Scott Wiener, Katy Tang, and London Breed, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, District Attorney George Gascon, Police Chief Greg Suhr, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White, Director of the Department of Public Health Barbara Garcia, numerous medical and public health doctors and officials, numerous mental health organizations, and many more.
Supervisor Farrell will work to schedule the initiative ordinance at the Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors after the legislation sits for at least 30-days.