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About Mental Health

Team devoted to people with mental illness: Laura’s Law sparked implementation of treatment service.

To assist individuals with serious mental illness who have fallen “through the cracks,” a Health System team has been formed to help improve their quality of life.

The Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) is now operating and open to taking referrals.

AOT is the local implementation of the Assisted Outpatient Treatment Demonstration Project Act of 2002, more commonly referred to as Laura’s Law. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in June 2015 to enact the law on a one-year trial.

The team is being led by Terry Wilcox-Rittgers, clinical services manager at the county’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.

The team just started accepting referrals July 1, Wilcox-Rittgers said.

“The first week we didn’t get any calls,” he said.

But since, the team has received more than 40 calls and four individuals have been enrolled in the program, he said.

Many of the other referrals, although they did not meet Laura’s Law criteria, were linked to other services in the county that may benefit them, Wilcox-Rittgers said.

Individuals considered for AOT are people living with a serious mental illness without psychiatric treatment and recovery support.

Without proper treatment, people with mental illness experience increased symptoms that can lead to increased hospitalizations or incarceration, according to county’s Health System.

The law authorizes the courts to order outpatient treatment for individuals with mental illness.

Most individuals will never make it to court, Wilcox-Rittgers said, and those that do, about 95 percent, then agree to participate.

To be eligible, individuals must be 18 years or older and a resident of San Mateo County with an untreated serious mental illness that causes them to be unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision. Additionally, the person’s mental health must have either resulted in a psychiatric hospitalization or incarceration two or more times in the past three years or resulted in threats or acts of violent behavior toward themselves or someone else in the past four years.

Referrals can be made by:

  • Immediate family members who are adults;
  • Adults who reside with the individual;
  • Director of a hospital, facility or other organization treating the person;
  • Mental health providers treating the person; and
  • Probation, parole or police officer.

Supervisor Don Horsley pushed for the passage of Laura’s Law last year after the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury issued a report urging its passage.

“Research indicates that treatment results in decreased emergency room admissions, arrests and harm. I’m proud our county and our Health System now has this extra tool to provide resources to those who need help, even to those who don’t necessarily know they do,” Horsley wrote in a statement.

The AOT team, upon receiving a referral, will determine if the person meets the criteria for the program and if so, will begin engaging the client in accepting services voluntarily.

If that does not occur, the team will make a referral to the San Mateo County Superior Court which in some cases may order the person to enter treatment involuntarily. For individuals who do not meet the AOT guidelines, the team will help connect them to other services.

Implementing the law cost $1.3 million in fiscal year 2015-16.

At full implementation, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services estimates at least 100 adults living with mental illness in the county could benefit whether the services are court ordered or voluntarily accepted.

Laura’s Law is named after Laura Wilcox, a Nevada County mental health worker murdered by a psychiatric patient.

AOT services include outreach, assessment, intensive case management, psychiatric interventions, community supports, housing assistance and around the clock response.

To make a referral, call (650) 372-6125 or email
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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