Effort underway to implement 'Laura's Law' for Kern County's mentally ill

Effort underway to implement 'Laura's Law' for Kern County's mentally ill
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Attorney Fawn Kennedy has a 30-year-old daughter who has suffered from mental illness since childhood.

"I call my daughter the 'million dollar patient,' because of the number of times she's been in the hospital," said Kennedy.

Kennedy and other local mental health advocates are pursuing an effort to have "Laura's Law" implemented in Kern County.

"Laura's Law is a means of bridging the gap that we have in treatment for the seriously mentally ill," said Kennedy.

In 2002, California passed the law that allows judges to order involuntary outpatient treatment for patients with severe mental illness.

It was named after 19-year-old college student Laura Wilcox, who was shot and killed in 2001 by a man with an untreated mental illness.

Under the law, family members, mental health workers or parole officers can request treatment for the mentally ill before they harm themselves or someone else. Kennedy said that in many instances, people might not be aware that they are suffering from mental illness.

"We are told that unless our loved ones commits a criminal act or decompensates to the point that they have to be hospitalized, we can't get help for them," said Kennedy.

Not everyone agrees with the proposed implementation of "Laura's Law."

"There's some question about what good Laura's Law really does," said Dr. Jim Waterman, director of Kern County Mental Health Department.

Waterman said the county established a task force to study Laura's Law and found that it was not feasible to implement in Kern County.

"It's not a matter of having treatment available, it's how do we go out in the community and bridge that and engage those people in treatment?" said Waterman.

The legislation leaves it up to individual counties to put the law in place, which makes funding a crucial issue. The legislation states that counties take money already allocated for mental health programs and divert it to Laura's Law.

Money would need to come from the county's general fund or from grants to generate enough funding for Laura's Law.

Kennedy is determined to convince county supervisors to implement the law.

"If we really wanted to allocate funds for something like this to get to people earlier, we could," said Kennedy.