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LA County leaders seek more ability to detain, help people with severe mental illness

Daily News - 11/1/2017

Nov. 01--What is a grave disability?

It was a question on the minds of Los Angeles County supervisors, who OK'd a motion Tuesday that seeks to expand that definition.

Their goal: To find a lawful way to expand the role of social workers and law enforcement officers to be able to detain people with severe mental illness who refuse treatment, even if their lives are in grave danger.

The motion, introduced by supervisors Kathryn Barger and Hilda Solis, asks the county's Department of Mental Health to work with attorneys, mental health advocacy groups, civil rights organizations and others to develop recommendations for legislative proposals that would expand state law that defines what is a grave disability.

Barger and Solis noted there are people in dire need of health and or mental health care but refuse to be helped because they may not understand their own condition. An estimated 30 percent of Los Angeles County's homeless population have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

""Our current mental health laws are a one-size-fits-all approach to mental illness, which makes it nearly impossible to address the needs of the growing statistic of the mentally ill among the homeless population and in our jails," Barger said in a statement. "State law should consider medical complexities in the context of mental illness, thereby allowing for the delivery of more effective treatment and care."

The motion passed on a 4-to-1 vote. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl cast the lone no-vote. Kuehl, who once served as chair of the state Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, said such proposals are difficult to pass in Sacramento.

"Personally, it think it will have a fairly rough time in Sacramento and I would prefer that the county not be a sponsor of the bill," Kuehl said.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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