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Laura's Law Implementation in Placer County

Placer County became the sixth county in California Tuesday to implement Laura's Law - a state statute that authorizes court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment of residents with severe mental illness in some cases.

The Placer County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a resolution authorizing implementation of Laura's Law. As required by state law, the resolution also protects existing voluntary mental health services for adults and children, saying the county will not need to reduce them in order to implement the new program.

Board Chairman Jack Duran commended the Health and Human Services Department for its foresight in leading the drive to bring the law to Placer County and for working with the Placer County Superior Court and other agencies to plan for its implementation.

"It's something that's going to make our county a better place to live," said Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery.

"This has been a long time coming," added Supervisor Jim Holmes.

Representatives from several different community and professional organizations urged the board to approve the resolution.

Speakers from HHS and community groups emphasized that recovery from severe mental illness is possible, particularly with early, effective treatment. They noted that residents with serious mental illness often do not seek treatment and lack insight into the nature of their illness. 

Implementation of Placer County's new program is scheduled to start next January. HHS estimated treatment costs will be approximately $400,000 per year, noting that the state and federal governments will cover 100 percent of the costs. State funding is available as a result of legislation authored by California Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg in 2012 that explicitly authorized funding mental health services provided under Laura's Law with revenue from Proposition 63, a measure approved by state voters in 2004 that now is commonly known as the California Mental Health Services Act.

The law was named after Laura Wilcox, a student intern at the Nevada County Behavioral Health clinic who was shot and killed in 2001 by a client who had discontinued treatment.

Nevada County Director of Health Michael Heggarty addressed Tuesday's meeting of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, emphasizing that the law has been very successful in his county.

He noted that about 80 people have received assisted outpatient treatment in Nevada County since Laura's Law went into effect. Many are no longer homeless and are staying out of jail and hospital emergency rooms. Almost all of them have agreed to take their medications.

Heggarty said Nevada County had no way to engage residents in that group before Laura's Law. "Mostly, what we had to do was wait for something really bad to happen," he told the board.

Placer County offers a continuum of voluntary mental health services through Health and Human Services. In a report to the board, HHS noted that assisted outpatient treatment will fill a gap in the county's continuum of care by providing a new tool for treating residents with severe mental illness that is less restrictive than conservatorship or locked inpatient care.  

Laura's Law authorizes court-ordered intensive outpatient treatment of adults with severe mental illness who refuse voluntary treatment if their conditions are deteriorating substantially and their mental illness has resulted in:
* Them being hospitalized or jailed at least twice in the preceding 36 months; or
* Violence or attempted violence against themselves or others within the last 48 months.

Assisted outpatient treatment can be requested for an individual by:
* Immediate family members who are adults;
* Adults who reside with the individual;
* The director of a hospital, facility or other organization that is treating the individual;
* A licensed mental health professional treating the person; or
* A police, parole or probation officer.

HHS officials told the board they assume about 20 residents will be referred to the Laura's Law program annually, emphasizing that some will agree to be treated while court orders will be needed to treat others. Participants will receive individually tailored treatment plans that include mental and physical health, substance abuse, employment and housing services.

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