Thirteen years after passage at the state level, a law allowing for the compelled treatment of certain mentally ill individuals will take effect in San Francisco next Monday.
Implementation of Laura's Law, as the law is known, was approved in July 2014 by a 9-to-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors.
The law takes its name from the tragic case of Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old health worker who in 2001 was randomly shot and killed by a man that had repeatedly refused his family's attempts to get him psychiatric treatment. Governor Gray Davis signed the bill into law in 2002, but the specifics of the law require that individual counties must vote to enact it.
Supervisor Mark Farrell, who introduced the legislation to enact the law, spoke to the Chronicle about what he views as San Francisco's mental health crisis.
“We have a mental illness crisis across our country, and we see it every day in San Francisco. It’s visible among our homeless population, and there are countless families and other individuals.”
The law allows for any number of concerned parties, including a person's roommate, child, sibling, spouse, or parent, to formally request that the San Francisco Department of Public Health investigate whether or not the DPH should file a court petition to have the individual remanded to forced outpatient treatment. For a person to qualify for such mandated treatment, he or she must meet a detailed list of criteria, including that the individual is "unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision, based on a clinical determination."
The law does not allow for the forced medication of patients.
In addition to providing treatment to those who may otherwise reject it, Supervisor Farrell told the Chronicle that he views Laura's Law as an important law enforcement tool.
“It’s important for families, and it’s important for law enforcement officers who are witnesses to the mental health deterioration on our streets and in the homes.”
City officials estimate that roughly one hundred people per year will qualify for compelled treatment in San Francisco under the new law.
To implement Laura's Law, San Francisco will create an Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, which will work with the patients who may end up being mandated treatment by the courts. Speaking with the Chronicle, team leader Angelica Almeida says that while the law isn't a cure-all, she believes it will be of service to the city's at-risk mentally ill.
“We know it won’t work for everyone, but if it works for a few, that’s a huge success.”