Chris Van Es NewsArt

Editorial: Sacramento County should follow Yolo’s lead on aiding the mentally ill

Published: Sunday, Jul. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6E

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors has taken an important step toward helping some of its most vulnerable residents, people who are too ill to know they need help.

Supervisors in other counties, Sacramento County among them, ought to do the same.

By a unanimous vote, the five-member Yolo County board agreed earlier this month to spend $100,000 to provide intensive care to a small number of people who suffer from severe mental illness, and are in danger on any given day of being jailed or forced into hospitals.

Nevada County is the only county in the state that has fully embraced assisted outpatient therapy, in which a judge directs individuals, who are deteriorating and have been hospitalized and incarcerated in the past, to accept therapy.

The individuals can remain in their homes and come and go as they please, so long as they regularly see counselors, attend therapy and in most instances take antipsychotic medication.

The Laura's Law program is named for Laura Wilcox, a college student from Nevada County who was shot and killed in 2001 by a man who went on a rampage and later was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity.

Much of the resistance comes from some civil libertarians and some mentally ill people who contend that people have a right to be ill. However, that argument overlooks the reality that too often, people become so ill that they harm themselves or others, or commit crimes and end up in jail, prison or state hospitals at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a year.

In Sacramento County, discussion about implementing a Laura's Law program has stalled for lack of consensus. But consensus does not fall from the sky.

As happened in Yolo County, one supervisor, Don Saylor, concluded that he had heard too many tragic stories to do nothing. Saylor solicited advice from Nevada County officials and mental health care workers who have seen Laura's Law help 100 individuals over the years.

Kim Suderman, Yolo County's director of its alcohol, drug and mental health department, estimates that the program would target perhaps four individuals at any given time, based on national estimates that one in 50,000 people might require such care.

The program could end up saving Yolo County money by diverting people from the criminal justice system and psychiatric hospitals. The cost of housing an individual at Woodland Memorial Hospital's psychiatric ward is $1,447 a day.

Yolo County is using $100,000 in general tax money to pay for what it calls a pilot program. Other counties are seeking authority to fund assisted outpatient programs by using parts of their share of a statewide $1 billion-a-year tax for mental health care.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the author of the 2004 initiative that raised the Mental Health Services Act tax, is carrying legislation this year that would make clear that counties could use that money for Laura's Law programs.

Nevada County and now Yolo County are leading the way. Some counties would adopt Laura's Law programs if the Legislature would remove unnecessary barriers that inhibit their ability to fund the programs. Leaders in other counties should resolve to help the small number of their constituents who are unable to help themselves.

The Bee's past stands

"In Nevada County, caseworkers, attorneys and the presiding judge of Nevada Superior Court work to provide care for a relative handful of severely mentally ill individuals who qualify. … The county has found that the law saves tax money and eases the suffering of the individuals and their families."

– Jan. 12, 2013

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