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Contra Costa County implements new Laura's Law program

Assisted outpatient treatment program available to patients with mental illness

The Contra Costa Health Services' new Laura's Law program to request treatment for people with severe mental illness began taking place this month, county officials announced.

The state legislature passed a law in 2002 to give permission to counties to implement the court system to intervene, observe and help people with mental illness who meet the legal criteria.

"According to the state law, the specific legal criteria that must be met for people who need assistance with their illness include a history of hospitalization or violence and of declining offered treatment," said county public information officer Mimi Zemmelman.

Contra Costa County has become the latest county to implement Laura's Law, following San Francisco, Yolo, Orange and Nevada County.

The Treatment Advocacy Center website states that "Laura's Law provides assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) to individuals who are unable to access community mental health services." Laura's Law is named after Laura Wilcox, who was shot and killed at the age of 19 by a man with untreated severe mental illness.

Contra Costa County's AOT program started Feb. 1, county officials said.

The AOT program not only requires voluntary participation from those suffering from mental illness, but it also includes a hearing as well as a referral process for giving court-ordered treatment to the patients.

In order for patients to be considered for the program, requests from law enforcement, immediate family members or mental health care providers must submit a request to officials in charge of the program.

"The Behavior Health Services would present evidence from its evaluation and the court would also hear from the individual and their legal representation which is provided by the Public Defenders Office," Zemmelman said.

Mental Health Services, a non-profit company, has been hired by the Behavior Health Services to work together with clinicians in the Contra Costa County to provide treatments to patients that have been referred via court approval.

"The Behavioral Health Services Division and its partners will continue to work closely with providers, family, patient advocates, and the Mental Health Commission to ensure AOT is effective, fair and respectful to all involves," division director Cynthia Belon said.

The program participants are closely involved in the process of their treatment in which they team up with service providers to create their personal plans for their treatment and are able to receive 24-hour access to the programs beneficial services.

"AOT is critical for community members whose mental health challenges put them or others at risk and have not yet received the help they need," Belon said. "This program is a resource to break the cycle of repeated hospitalization or incarceration that many of our potential patients face."

Services that mental health patients will receive through the Contra Costa County approved program include: medication, mental health treatment, supportive housing, family support and substance abuse counseling.

Once the program has become fully implemented in the county, it will be able to deliver care to as many as 75 mental-health patients. The program has been funded for a year with $2.25 million from the Mental Health Services Act funding and $400,000 from the county's general fund.

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