3-month study will consider if Laura’s Law is good option for Stanislaus County

As Rhonda Allen sees it, Stanislaus County suffers from the ongoing tragedy of people who are not treated for severe mental illness.

Many are too sick to ask for help and will never use a proposed access center in Modesto that will try to link the homeless with services, Allen said.

“We are overwhelming our police and sheriff’s departments with calls to pick them up,” Allen noted. Those taken to the behavioral health center in Modesto are held for a few days and then released, she said.

Allen and fellow advocates from the National Alliance on Mental Illness made their appeal Tuesday for the Board of Supervisors to implement Laura’s Law, as other counties have done.

The California law establishes a framework for court-ordered outpatient treatment for people who have refused mental health treatment and been a danger to themselves or others. In counties with Laura’s Law, families often use it to get help for a loved one whose condition has deteriorated and is not likely to survive without supervision.

Referrals for a Laura’s Law evaluation also can be made by a county behavioral health director, mental health providers, law enforcement or an adult roommate.

Proponents say Laura’s Law protects the public and is a far better alternative to jailing the mentally ill. “Our laws protect the people’s right to remain sick,” Allen said.

Allen’s assessment is borne out by a spike in 911 calls for people who could be a danger to themselves or others, and data on emergency-room encounters with people suffering from mental disorders.

Those details were published in a Modesto Bee report in 2015, which left out an observation from Psychologist Philip Trompetter, who teaches peace officers to de-escalate encounters with the mentally ill.

For years, Trompetter has shadowed a patrol officer before teaching the annual “crisis intervention” classes, and the shift would typically include one call for a psychotic meltdown. On a recent ride-along, it was four or five, Trompetter said.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, two speakers told heart-wrenching tales of loved ones who fell through the cracks of the broken mental health system.

County CEO Stan Risen said the county has made preliminary contacts with counties that have adopted Laura’s Law, and received a mixed review. One concern is a lack of tools in the legislation for enforcing the law, Risen said.

The county’s effort to explore Laura’s Law won’t stop there. A consulting firm called the Results Group will talk to interested groups, review how the law is implemented in other counties, and consider the pros and cons of local adoption.

In addition, the consultants will do a comparative analysis on two counties – one that has implemented Laura’s Law and one that has not.

Educational events will be held. The consultants will prepare a report for county leaders and the public, with the entire process taking about three months. The contract for the Results Group is not to exceed $25,000.

The discussion will likely touch on concerns about civil rights, the side effects of psychiatric medications and use of other alternatives such as conservatorship.

Supervisor Kristin Olsen has been vocal about implementing Laura’s Law. Supervisor Jim DeMartini has expressed doubts.

“We are intensely looking at this,” Supervisor Terry Withrow said.

Douglas Dunn, who pushed for Laura’s Law in Contra Costa County, said he’s glad Stanislaus is going with a three-month study process, “because now is the time when three-year (Mental Health Services Act) budgets are being drawn up.” To fund a Laura’s Law program, counties can use funds from the state millionaires’ tax for mental health services if money is not taken from other voluntary programs, Dunn said.

In Contra Costa, which implemented the law a year ago, an individual in the program gets more than two hours of daily contact from a treatment team, Dunn said. One problem is that it takes from 30 days to 10 months for a county investigation to see if someone meets the criteria.

“We are pressing to shorten that to no more than a week,” said Dunn, a NAMI chapter vice president who spoke at a Modesto meeting in November.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16