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Laura's Law - it's Placer County's Turn

2014 marks the 12th year since Laura’s Law was signed into law in California.  Up until this year, only Nevada County had fully implemented Laura’s Law which supports Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), allowing for court-ordered treatment of very seriously mentally ill individuals not engaged in any other treatment. 

Recently we have witnessed a groundswell of activity with San Francisco, Orange, Los Angeles and Yolo counties moving forward to implement county-wide Laura’s Law programs.  Furthermore, there are a number of other counties on the brink of approving AOT programs, including San Diego, Alameda, Marin, Contra Costa and Santa Barbara.  Why the sudden change?

First, a number of tragic incidents over the past year have highlighted the need to provide better treatment options for our seriously mentally ill population.  Second, we have a treatment option that actually works very well.  AOT has been shown to dramatically reduce psychiatric hospitalizations, incarcerations, and homeless while at the same time saving money.  These results have been documented in California as well as 45 other states.   Finally, many counties had been reluctant to move forward with AOT due to treatment costs.  This was resolved last year when legislation authored by State Senator Darryl Steinberg clarified that counties could use state Mental Health Services Act funds to implement such programs. 

AOT particularly addresses individuals who suffer from a brain condition called anosognosia, which precludes them from recognizing their illness.  It is estimated that up to 50% of people with serious mental illness do not believe they are ill.  Furthermore, Laura’s Law requires that individuals are first offered voluntary treatment.  In Nevada County 70% of individuals referred to its program voluntarily engaged in treatment.  Court proceedings have only been necessary to secure treatment in a minority of cases.  

A number of organizations have actively supported Laura’s Law, including the California Treatment Advocacy Coalition, the California Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the California Medical Association, the California Judges Association, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, the California Peace Officers Association, the California Hospital Association and the California Probation, Parole and Correctional Association.  They all realize that while not the panacea, Laura’s Law will ultimately save lives and improve the quality of life for many mentally ill individuals.

I am happy to announce that earlier this year Placer County hired, Jeff Brown, formerly of Nevada County to serve as Placer County Health and Human Services Director.  Jeff was responsible for Nevada County’s successful implementation of Laura’s Law, the first in the state, that many counties, including Placer, are now following. 

This August, our Board of Supervisors will consider the implementation of Laura’s Law as a pilot program.  The time to implement Laura’s Law has come.  It’s the right thing to do.

It is my pleasure to serve you.  If you have any questions or comments about this article or anything County related, please contact me directly at (916) 787-8950 and jduran@placer.co.gov.

Jack Duran

Placer County Supervisor, District 1

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