SF’s court-ordered treatment of mentally ill launches next week

San Francisco’s new mental health outpatient treatment program will begin accepting patients next week.

The Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) program, set to launch Monday, is a product of Laura’s Law, court-ordered outpatient treatment for individuals with severe mental illness that was enacted in California in 2002 by Assembly Bill 1421. Last year, San Francisco became the third jurisdiction in the state, and the first major city, to implement the law locally.

“Laura’s Law will add another option for family members seeking to help a severely mentally ill relative,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement Monday. “We need to take that next step of increasing mental health access for those in need. We need more options for family members, loved ones and, providers who are concerned and want the ability to get their loved ones treatment and support.”

San Francisco’s AOT team includes a forensic psychologist, a peer with experience in mental health services and a family liaison with a relative with mental illness. The team will attempt to engage an individual with mental illness with voluntary treatment first, but if that is not successful the process can lead to court-ordered outpatient care.

Supporters of the law say it is another tool for a city plagued by a large population of mentally ill, many homeless, who refuse or are unable to find treatment. Opponents, however, argue the law further criminalizes a population that is already vulnerable.

“While assisted outpatient treatment is not for everyone, it fills a gap in the mental health system that will provide a new tool for families watching loved ones suffer who have felt powerless to intervene,” Barbara Garcia, The City’s director of health, said in a statement.

According to the Department of Public Health, AOT aims to assist adults with a severe mental illness who do not actively receive care, are in worsening condition and have not previously complied with treatment.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who authored San Francisco’s version of Laura’s Law, has emphasized it will help those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Adults who qualify must have undergone a psychiatric hospitalization or incarceration twice in the past three years, or threatened or committed violent behavior to themselves or someone else in the past four years.

City officials estimate that fewer than 100 people in San Francisco will be eligible each year.

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