Donna Yadron has tried for years to get help for her 39-year-old son, Joe.
The trouble, she says, is that Joe doesn’t know he needs treatment.
While he has never been diagnosed with a mental illness, Yadron says he has telltale symptoms. He used to confide that people in helicopters were looking for him. He talked about burying bodies. He told family members he and his grandfather had built several buildings in the region, which wasn’t true.
Yadron says she has not seen her son since he threatened her life last year.
They had gone to Stanford Medical Center to see his father, who was seriously ill, and Joe jumped out of the car in slow traffic in Palo Alto, though he rejoined his mother at the hospital.
On the return trip, they were on the Sunol grade on Interstate 680 when her agitated son, who wasn’t armed, threatened to shoot her head off, Yadron says. The bakery shop owner maintained her composure and drove to the police station in Pleasanton.
Realizing she was going to report the incident to police, Joe leaped out of the car and fled. “That was the last time I saw him,” Yadron says.
Joe is one of the many adults with symptoms of serious mental illness, who are not treated and live on the streets, even though family members want to help them.
Yadron, a former Ceres resident who moved to Manteca in September, believes her adult son wanders the streets in Turlock, where he attended high school.
Yadron is among advocates who have asked Stanislaus County to adopt Laura’s Law, which would enable court-ordered outpatient treatment for adults like her son. The county began exploring the state law several months ago and is expected to continue with the fact-finding until late summer.
County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services will bring a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which has final say on adopting the voluntary law. Eighteen counties in California have adopted it.
BHRS director Rick DeGette said a consultant is researching the law and talking to other counties about their Laura’s Law programs. Staff members want to know what has worked and not worked in other counties.
Another issue they are investigating are claims by advocates that “assisted outpatient treatment” saves money for counties by reducing hospitalizations and incarceration of the mentally ill.
“We are really trying to determine and validate what the fiscal impacts are – positive or otherwise,” DeGette said. “Some of those claims have been filtered through advocacy. It’s not clear that that is true or not.”
DeGette said his department is looking into providing more vocational services for BHRS clients, with a possible link to a Laura’s Law program. “There is interest in seeing how that might fit,” he said Thursday.
Outpatient psychiatric services and housing would be essentials for a Laura’s Law program in Stanislaus County. “Housing is really difficult to find,” DeGette said, adding there is no guarantee of housing under Laura’s Law.
The director said his position will remain neutral until the consultant’s work is finished.
The Stanislaus chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has spearheaded the grassroots effort to have the law adopted. Executive Director Lynn Padlo said community forums on the law were well attended earlier this year. Members are circulating petitions and writing letters to top county officials.
The group hopes to present data showing the county would save money from fewer hospitalizations and fewer police calls for people with psychiatric issues who are a danger to themselves or others.
Padlo said she feels for parents like Yadron who struggle with grown children with mental illness. “You raise them as children and then all of a sudden this illness strikes and you have lost the person that they were,” Padlo said. Conservatorship is an option for those parents but is difficult to attain, she said.
Yadron said her son was on the football team at Turlock High School in the 1990s. He had a learning disability called audio-visual perception delay and was in special classes.
Joe married a young woman when he was 20 years old and they lived at his father’s ranch. Yadron says his symptoms began at that time, coinciding with his heavy drug use, which brought the marriage to an end. Yadron believes there’s a connection between substance abuse and his psychiatric problems.
“He hears voices,” Yadron says. “He would go out in the middle of street and scream to shut them up.”
Joe has refused to see a psychiatrist who would diagnose his condition and prescribe treatment, his mother says. Police responding to incidents have declined to take him to a facility under section “5150” of the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code because he did not harm anyone.
At different times over the years, Yadron and her second husband have allowed Joe to stay with them. They tolerated his behavior such as tearing the swimming pool pump apart. Family members avoided the home. “I didn’t have a life,” Yadron says.
During the holidays, Joe would leave the home and drink and cause grief for family members when he returned.
In 2012, Joe was arrested for drunken driving after he was run over by his own truck in Ceres. Shortly before 3 a.m., he was driving on 10th Street and knocked over a pole. While backing up the truck, Joe fell out of the moving vehicle and was pinned underneath it.
Yadron is still optimistic her son could live a productive life with proper treatment. She saw him get well in a substance abuse rehab program in Manteca, but he began using again.
“If he got on medication, he could live in my house,” Yadron says. She believes Joe would comply with court-ordered counseling and monitoring under a Laura’s Law program.
Yadron says that one time her son agreed to an evaluation, but somehow it concluded he was not eligible for county services.
“They way things are now, they have their rights and their families and the police can’t do anything to help them,” Yadron says.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16