Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Laura’s Law may prevent future tragedies

Laura’s Law must be implemented by San Luis Obispo County now.

Laura’s Law, enacted by the California Legislature in 2002, authorizes the use of court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment, a proven tool that allows for the sickest patients with mental illnesses to get help before it’s too late. The tragic killing of the two women in Santa Margarita by the alleged suspect may have been prevented if San Luis Obispo County had implemented Laura’s Law.

The state left it up to each county to implement the law to help prevent tragedies like the death of Laura Wilcox, who died 10 years ago on Jan. 10. She was shot while at work at California’s Nevada County Behavioral Health clinic by a client who appeared for a scheduled appointment.

Without warning or provocation, he drew a handgun and shot Wilcox four times. Nevada County, where Wilcox lived and died, implemented Laura’s Law.

Its immediate success in “convincing some individuals with untreated mental illnesses that they were in need of treatment” (and saving taxpayer dollars in the process) led the California Supervisors Association to give Nevada County one of its 2010 Challenge Awards for innovation and creativity in government.

By providing assisted outpatient treatment to those too sick to seek treatment, Laura’s Law creates an effective tool for people with severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, to get help before they become a danger to themselves or others.

Multiple independent studies document that laws like California’s stop the revolving door that spins people in and out of hospital emergency rooms and jails, reduces the public cost involved in high-cost interventions and addresses numerous other consequences of nontreatment.

Ten years after Wilcox died, our county supervisors have not implemented the 2002 law to prevent more tragedies. Mental illness is a biological brain disorder, a chemical imbalance to the brain. It is not the fault of the family or the ill person, but can be treated with proper medication.

We must bring Laura’s Law to all counties to help save lives. The time for delay is over. Action should be taken now!

Diane O’Neil is the past president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, San Gabriel Valley. She lives in Atascadero.