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Monday, October 26, 2015

Legislation would OK mental illness treatment before incident occurs

By JERRY WOLFFE

Family and friends would be permitted to get mental health treatment for a person close to them before an unfortunate incident under legislation passed by the House.

In 2004, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed "Kevin's Law" in honor of Kevin Heisinger, who was beaten to death in a Kalamazoo bus/train station by a man with schizophrenia who stopped taking his medication.

Current law allows judges to order involuntary assisted outpatient treatment, but only after a major incident occurs.

Under HB 4674, which passed 103-2, sponsored by Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt Township), a family member or friend would be allowed to petition the court and allow judges to order outpatient treatment for those who have had their mental illness confirmed by a physician, all without a crime being committed.

"This reform is sorely needed because current law makes it very difficult for people who might not recognize the severity of their situation to obtain the treatment they need," Leonard said in a statement. "In the same vein, we must guarantee individuals' due process rights are protected by providing legal counsel to guide them through the court process if they believe (assisted outpatient treatment) AOT is not necessary. This protects both the public safety and the privileges of the individual."

Supporters have said under current law (passed about a decade ago), a crisis needs to occur before intervention could happen, and communities have been confused by the complexity of "Kevin's Law" and it hasn't been used often.

"We must make public safety - including the well-being of the individual in need of care - a priority in this type of situation, but also ensure that their rights remain protected. This legislation strikes that delicate balance."  Leonard said. "I want to thank Lt. Gov. Calley for bringing this issue to my attention, and for the strong leadership he has shown working to protect our state's most vulnerable citizens."

HB 4674 does the following:

·         Offers early intervention, since current law requires a serious incident that might endanger public safety to occur before AOT may be requested;

·         Simplifies the process of seeking court-appointed treatment; and

·         Allows a judge to order AOT before an incident has occurred that could cause injury to the prospective patient or a member of the public.

The measure has been referred to committee on Health Policy for further consideration.

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.

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