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Thursday, January 25, 2018
Barger Pushes for Legislation to Provide Lifesaving Medical Care for the Mentally Ill
Department of Mental Health-sponsored Amendment to State Law Would Add Medical Treatment to Grave Disability Criteria
At their next regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 30, the Board of Supervisors will consider a motion by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Mark Ridley-Thomas to sponsor state legislation enabling the county to provide critical medical care for the mentally ill.
“More than 830 homeless people died on the streets of L.A. County last year. Many of these deaths were preventable with proper medical attention,” Barger said. “It’s time for California to join 37 other states who consider medical treatment a basic human need for those suffering from a mental illness.”
The legislation would amend the state’s definition of gravely disabled pursuant to the recommendation by the Department of Mental Health (DMH), to read, “a condition in which a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment where the lack or failure of such treatment results in substantial physical harm or death.” This proposed addition (in the underlined section above) is similar to the criteria used in 37 states nationwide.
“It’s important to realize that individuals with co-occurring mental illness and homelessness, arguably the county’s most vulnerable populations, may account disproportionately for the increased death rates,” said Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
“We can advance our mission by operationalizing our work with the most vulnerable and critically ill by acknowledging that signs of physical harm due to self-neglect as a result of serious mental conditions are a rational and objective means for detecting grave disability,” Sherin added.
On October 31, 2017 the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Barger that directed DMH to work with county agencies, mental health advocacy groups, civil rights organizations and other stakeholders to develop legislative recommendations. Numerous mental health professionals and advocates voiced support for Barger’s motion including Dr. Susan Patrovi, Medical Director of Homeless Healthcare LA, Brittney Weissman, Executive Director of NAMI Los Angeles County Council and Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu.
DMH and its partners engaged stakeholders from various statewide and local organizations and received overwhelmingly positive feedback on modifying the current grave disability standard.
“Current state law is a one-size-fits-all approach to mental illness, which makes it nearly impossible to adequately address the needs of the growing number of the mentally ill among the homeless population,” Barger said. “Allowing the most vulnerable to languish on our streets without a lifeline is inhumane, and we cannot accept this as a viable option.”
“Together, we can find an effective approach to this crisis that will help deliver lifesaving treatment and care for those desperately in need,” she added.