Santa Clara County has kicked off a new program that allows families of severely mentally ill residents to petition the court for ordered treatment, the county announced on Wednesday.
Known as Laura's Law, the program also offers wraparound services to help keep severely mentally ill people more stable and off the streets.
California enacted Laura's Law in 2002, but the legislation left the decision to individual counties to adopt the program. Few counties implemented the law, but the state passed AB 1976 in 2020, which made Laura's Law automatically go into effect unless counties explicitly opt out and provide a reason. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which previously resisted implementing the law, voted to implement Laura's Law in May 2021.
Laura's Law is also called the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program. The court temporarily orders outpatient care for people with severe mental illness who may not believe they need treatment, have refused it in the past and are at risk without supervision. Prior to Laura's Law, families and loved ones of people with severe mental illness who are resistant to treatment had little ability to intervene outside of costly court-ordered conservatorship.
Santa Clara County's program began accepting referrals last week. Family members, loved ones or case workers who are familiar with a person and their needs generally refer the cases to the court.
Individuals remain in the program until they can maintain their own treatment. Assisted outpatient treatment includes intensive individual and group clinical services, peer support, intensive case management, housing assistance, 24/7 clinical crisis support and medicine evaluation. It doesn't mandate medication or inpatient treatment, according to a county statement.
"This is just one more important tool friends and families can use when a loved one is suffering with serious mental illness. It's not a cure-all, it's not a panacea. Sometimes, though, there are folks who are too ill to know that they're ill and need help. Getting them the help they need and deserve is what this new effort is all about," county Supervisor Joe Simitian, who chairs the county‘s Health and Hospital Committee, said in the statement.
Committee vice chair Supervisor Otto Lee said the program was long overdue and will prevent people who need treatment from repeatedly ending up in custody.
"This will help our residents with the most urgent mental health needs and avoid the revolving door of our jail system," Lee said in the statement.
The county added 11 new jobs for the program, including a psychologist, social workers and support staff. The program is expected to initially serve approximately 50 clients.
"We are very excited to offer this new program to assist some of the most vulnerable in our community, and eager to see positive outcomes for clients served as well as relief for their loved ones," said Sherri Terao, the county's director of behavioral health services.
To be eligible, a client must be age 18 or older, have a severe mental illness and be unlikely to survive in the community based on a clinical determination. They must have a history of noncompliance with treatment, or were offered and refused to voluntarily participate in a treatment plan.
A complete list of eligibility criteria and who can petition for the program can be found at bhsd.sccgov.org. Those who think someone needs assistance through the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program can call the Behavioral Health Call Center at 800-704-0900 and select option 7 to speak with a program team member.