by Lynne Gibbs, Mental Health Family Advocate
On April 21st, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors failed to take action on a proposal to adopt Laura’s Law in Santa Barbara County, following an impassioned plea by the new Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Director, Alice Gleghorn, that the department could not be ready to implement even a pilot program of ten persons commencing July 2016. Laura’s Law would authorize court-mandated, outpatient treatment for persons at severe risk who are too ill with serious mental illness to kn ow they need help.
Ms. Gleghorn’s testimony appeared to derail the widespread support for adoption by representatives of the Mental Health Commission, CAGV, NAMI, FamiliesAct, and the District Attorney. Supervisors Doreen Farr and Salud Carbajal favored adoption; supervisors Peter Adams and Steve Lavagnino opposed. Chair Janet Wolf cast the deciding sentiment against. Supervisor Peter Adams supported Ms. Gleghorn’s position, commending her willingness to speak up, despite the fact that “the community really wants this, and the County was ready to spend money on it.” Rather than voting against Laura’s Law, the Supervisors postponed a decision, electing instead to receive a report from ADMHS in six months on the status of its syste ms change effort.
Perhaps most striking was data supplied by the Assistant County CEO, Terri Maus-Nisich, indicating that a full implementation of Laura’s Law was likely to save the County over $4 million in hospitalization costs. This does not include savings to the County to be realized by reduced incarcerations. LA County has reported a 70% reduction of hospitalizations, and an 80% decrease in incarcerations since the inception of its program.
Most affecting was the personal testimony of family members whose loved ones have died or suffered in the past decade since Laura’s Law was last rejected by the Board of Supervisors in 2005. This mirrored similarly compelling testimony by another 12 individuals at the Board’s hearing six months ago, when the County CEO’s office was directed to conduct an internal analysis on what it would take to implement the law.
Supervisor Farr reminded the board that she and District Attorney Joyce Dudley gave direction to staff to look into the law because “we were asked by the public to bring it. … We’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories about people in our community,” she said.