Supervisors Direct Staff to Study "Laura's Law"

March 19, 2013 | 5:11pm

San Diego County supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to have County staff thoroughly study “Laura’s Law” to determine if the state law could improve the County’s ability to help people who suffer from severe mental health problems and their families.

The Board, at the recommendation of Supervisors Dave Roberts and Dianne Jacob, directed County staff to come back in 90 days with a report comparing Laura’s Law to the County’s In Home Outreach Team (IHOT), a County pilot program that has drawn praise from mental-health officials and affected families.

Roberts and Jacob said they want the County to determine if there is even more it can do to help mental-health patients; whether implementing Laura’s Law would improve mental-health services and whether Laura’s Law would cost more than current County programs or cut costs.

“We wanted to make sure that the County is doing all that it can to help them and to protect the public overall,” Roberts said, “and the only way we can do that is to look at what we’re doing now and comparing it to other options of care that are available to us.”

Laura’s law, passed into law in 2002, allows patients with severe mental health problems to be mandatorily compelled by court order to take required medications and treatment if they pose a danger to themselves or others.

The State left it up to counties to determine if they wanted to implement the law. To date, just one County, Nevada County, has done so.

However, San Diego County adopted its IHOT program — which is similar to Laura’s Law, but allows for voluntary rather than mandatory treatment — in 2011.

Roberts said early studies have suggested that implementing Laura’s Law could save taxpayers money, and reduce the numbers of mental-health patients who end up homeless, hospitalized or arrested.

San Diego County has introduced a number of programs to help mental-health patients. Some of those include: programs to raise awareness about mental illness and to reduce the stigma that often accompanies it; the creation of a Behavioral Health Court; the early-intervention "Kick-Start" program; the creation of the Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams (PERT); and the Bridge to Recovery Program that helps people who suffer from mental-health problems and substance abuse problems.