SALINAS — Monterey County elected officials will consider opting out of a state law on Tuesday governing the care of seriously mentally ill county residents.
Monterey County Health Director Elsa Jimenez recommends the Board of Supervisors pass a resolution that will allow the county to opt out of implementing what is commonly known as Laura’s Law.
The law requires counties to implement a court-ordered involuntary treatment program for people who cannot maintain stable mental health and who experience frequent hospitalizations and run-ins with law enforcement, a Jimenez said in a report provided to supervisors.
Laura’s Law was passed in 2002, and a later law (AB1976) that goes into effect July 1 allows counties to opt out of the mandate if certain conditions are met. The law is named after Laura Wilcox, who was shot and killed aged 19 by a man with a serious, untreated mental illness.
Like many state laws that require counties to implement various programs, Laura’s Law is an unfunded mandate – basically the state says you have to do it, but we’re not going to provide you with funding to implement it. It’s also critical that counties can’t cut other services in order to fund a Laura’s Law program — called assisted outpatient treatment.
The program would treat residents who are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision and who have a history of nonadherence to treatment. The warrant would affect people who, in the past 36 months, have required two psychiatric hospitalizations or been imprisoned due to their mental illness, or the person’s mental illness has resulted in threats of violence to themselves or others over the previous 48 months.
Another reason to withdraw from the Laura’s Law program is a matter of redundancy. Programs provided by the Monterey County Office of Behavioral Health provide services “that not only meet, but exceed, expectations for (assisted outpatient treatment),” Jimenez said in his report.
“(The Behavior Health Bureau) puts the client at the forefront of their own treatment, listening to their voice and meeting the client where they are in their recovery,” Jimenez said. “Behavioral Health understands and embraces the importance of building trusting and lasting relationships with the people we serve to effectively support their long-term recovery.”
Behavioral health also strives to ensure respect for cultures and languages, she said.
County data shows marked increases in demand for mental health services. Behavioral Health served 13,134 people between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. This represents a 25% increase over five years in the number of people needing mental health services and a 69% increase over the past 10 last years.
Implementing Laura’s Law would also be costly. The estimated cost of providing mental health services related to assisted outpatient treatment is $364,176 per year. Behavioral health does not have the funding to meet state requirements. Additionally, the average court cost would be $7,896 per day, or $987 per hour, to operate a dedicated courtroom for Laura’s Law cases. This is without counting the salaries of judges and public defenders.
Also related to mental health, supervisors will receive a resolution recognizing Maternal Mental Health Week in Monterey County. In California, 21% of pregnant and postpartum women are affected by a mental health problem.
The number is higher for African American and Latino mothers, as well as women living in poverty.
The Board of Supervisors will meet in a virtual open session from 10:30 a.m. The meeting will be accessible at https://monterycty.zoom.us/j/224397747.