County May Allow Court-Ordered Psychiatric Treatment

Humboldt’s Board of Supervisors is exploring the possibility of implementing a state law that allows courts to order outpatient mental health treatment as a condition of staying in the community.

The potential implementation of Laura’s Law — the 2003 state law named after Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old mental health services clerk who was killed in a Nevada City shooting attack by a man who had refused treatment — was explored at the April 5 supervisors meeting.

Dr. Asha George, the county’s mental health director, described Laura’s Law as a means of allowing courts to direct involuntary outpatient mental health treatment for people who are seriously mentally ill.

She said people who are subject to the law must be deemed to be “unlikely to survive safely in the community” and be a danger to themselves and others. Also included in the criteria is having been committed to a psychiatric hospital or incarcerated at least two times in the last 36 months.

People who can request the involuntary outpatient treatment include family members and others who live with or know a seriously mentally ill person.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell said she’s been approached by numerous people about mental illness dilemmas, including those with concerns about not being able to get mentally ill family members into treatment.

“They had no say about requiring them to get treatment,” Fennell said, adding that implementation of Laura’s Law appears to be “an attractive alternative” worthy of consideration.

Earlier, George had reported that a review of 38 residents who had been hospitalized at least twice in a 36-month period showed that only six of them had gone without follow-up treatment. She told supervisors that based on that, it’s likely that implementation of Laura’s Law would only help a maximum of six people.

But Fennell said that treating even a small number of people would have a significant impact. Tim Ash, the chair of the county’s Behavioral Health Board, agreed and said the number of residents who could benefit might be larger than anticipated.

“I wonder how many people that are currently in jail for one reason or another could end up having been helped,” he continued.

Supervisor Rex Bohn noted that Humboldt has been recognized as a social services innovator. “What has been our resistance to bringing this forward?” he asked. “Is it just the fact that nobody else will pay for it?”

“I think funding is one of the factors,” George responded. “But it’s also the involvement of all the other agencies and their willingness to participate in this process and assign staffing to run the program.”

The county’s implementation of Laura’s Law will need approval from supervisors. They unanimously voted to have county staff form a working group to develop a proposal for possible implementation.