It’s been almost seven months since Rich Detty’s son died in a Santa Barbara County psychiatric unit, and he’s still got more questions than answers.
In April, Cliff Detty, 47, of Santa Maria, died after spending hours in a restraint that held his limbs and torso down inside the county Psychiatric Health Facility in Santa Barbara. The younger Detty had struggled with paranoid schizophrenia for nearly a decade, and was homeless much of the time, or in jail.
Since Cliff Detty’s plight was uncovered, discussion has been under way about how to reform existing law and better serve patients and their families. Under current law, patients must present a danger to themselves or others, or be deemed gravely disabled, to be taken in for emergency treatment involuntarily. It was under such circumstances that Rich Detty was repeatedly denied the mental health assistance he sought for Cliff, who would have had to come in on his own terms to receive it.
But California counties can opt in to a provision called Laura’s Law that would require outpatient treatment for people who are unable — or won’t — access mental health services voluntarily. Any adult with whom the person resides, as well as a set of other qualified people, can petition the local Superior Court for treatment for the person with mental illness. The county mental health director then must conduct an investigation to determine whether the person qualifies, and if so, the person is placed in a six-month outpatient treatment program. Patients remain in the community and receive treatment, with less disruption to their lives than being locked away in a facility, according to advocates.
Of the program, [Commissioner Ann] Eldridge cast a wary eye.
“I’m going to be looking at it very carefully,” she said.
Responding to Eldridge’s concern about the lack of court oversight in the pilot project, Feliciano said the county already promotes a conservatorship program. But some argue that the conservatorship process is more intrusive than the role of the court within Laura’s Law. A person must be a danger to himself or others to qualify for conservatorship, excluding many people from treatment. Still, the ADMHS is hesitant to employ the law.
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In the Wake of Patient's Death, ADMHS Proposes Pilot Treatment Program for Mentally Ill