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Mental health program launched in El Dorado County

By From page A7 | July 05, 2017

Mental illness can affect any person or family. For those individuals in El Dorado County with the most severe forms of mental illness, a new program is now in place. The Assisted Outpatient Treatment program (also known as the “Laura’s Law” program) began operation in El Dorado County in January 2017. The program, coordinated through the El Dorado County Behavioral Health Division of the Health and Human Services Agency, gives additional tools to families, agencies and individuals to get people who need mental health treatment into those services.

“The Assisted Outpatient Treatment program is important because it recognizes that some people with the most severe forms of mental illness may need help in understanding that they need treatment,” said Katy Eckert, assistant director of HHSA. “Sometimes the person with acute mental illness does not recognize they have a problem and therefore they do not seek out or want treatment. In extreme cases, their behaviors can result in harm to themselves or those around them. The AOT program seeks to improve the safety and well-being of individuals and our community by helping those with severe mental illness get the help they need.”

The AOT program uses a community-based, case management model to assist the seriously mentally ill with placement into mental health treatment. The program works with clients to seek voluntary participation whenever possible, but can utilize the court system if needed to leverage that treatment.

“Our team of mental health professionals works with the individual to assess their needs and come up with an individualized treatment plan,” said Eckert. “Most treatment services are provided in an outpatient setting and accompanied by supportive services.”

To be eligible for the AOT program, an individual must be evaluated to see if they could benefit from treatment and if they meet specific criteria. At a minimum, the individual must meet all of the following criteria:

  • 18 years of age or older;
  • Suffering from a serious mental illness as defined by California law;
  • Clinically assessed as being unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision; and
  • Have a history of failing to comply with treatment for his or her mental illness as demonstrated by at least one of the following: 1) The person’s mental illness has resulted in them being hospitalized or receiving services in a mental health unit of a state or local correctional facility at least twice in the past 36 months; or 2) The person’s mental illness has resulted in one or more serious or violent acts, threats or attempts to cause physical harm toward themselves or others within the past 48 months.

Referrals to the AOT program can be made by concerned household members, immediate family members, a residential mental health facility director, a hospital where the individual is inpatient, the individual’s current mental health provider and/or a supervising law enforcement officer.

Signed into California law in 2002 as Assembly Bill 1421, Laura’s Law is named after Laura Wilcox, a young woman in California who was killed by a man diagnosed with severe mental illness who had refused treatment. Laura’s Law allows family members, roommates, mental health providers, law enforcement and others to petition the courts in California to order assisted outpatient treatment for the seriously mentally ill who don’t understand the gravity of their condition. Counties in California have the option of implementing the program. El Dorado County authorized the program in 2015.

“The Assisted Outpatient Treatment program enhances our continuum of care for seriously mentally ill residents through earlier intervention and community-based treatment focused on decreasing dangerous behaviors, hospitalization and incarceration,” said Eckert. “The program helps people gain control of their lives and gives families the support they need to help their loved ones.”

Individuals with questions regarding the AOT program in El Dorado County may call Behavioral Health staff at (530) 621-6290 on the West Slope of El Dorado County. For information about other behavioral health programs and services in El Dorado County visit  edcgov.us/mentalhealth.

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