Progress in System Reform
In 2015 there were more bills filed in Florida on mental health initiatives than in the seven prior years combined. After disappointing attempts to pass improved mental health legislation, reinvigorated efforts have yielded encouraging results in early 2016. On February 18, the Florida legislature unanimously passed two important bills dealing with mental health, substance abuse and treatment.
One bill focused on providing easier access to mental health services for patients. This will help ensure those in need of treatment will be able to get it.
The other bill established requirements for doctors and civil facilities to continue certain treatment protocols if the client or patient is unable to make informed decisions of their own. This will help ensure those in treatment are not simply cut off at critical points during their recovery.
“No Wrong Door” Policy
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed Bill 0012, covering mental health and substance abuse. This bill establishes a “no wrong door” policy for mental health services, which provides substantial improvement in access to coverage and benefits. Under this policy, people who need treatment would have access, no matter how they enter the system.
It is challenging enough to deal with governmental agencies and complicated procedures when encountering support services that do not communicate with each other. For those dealing with mental illness and substance abuse, these difficulties are often multiplied.
The “no wrong door” policy is designed to eliminate or reduce such difficulties. The concept is based on the premise that every door in the public support service system should be the right door, with a range of services being accessible to everyone from multiple points of entry. This commits all services to respond to the individual’s needs directly or through case coordination, rather than denying help or sending a person from one agency to another.
Impact on Criminal Justice System
The House Judiciary Committee also passed another bill, HB 0769, dealing with mental health treatment. Among other things, this bill requires doctors in state and civil facilities to keep patients on the psychotropic drugs they were previously prescribed if the client cannot make an informed or competent decision of their own.
The bill addresses numerous situations, including emergencies and both voluntary and involuntary treatment of a patient with psychotropic drugs. The underlying concern is to provide for continuing treatment with a medication that had been started before a patient’s admission to a particular facility.
Concern for the patient’s health and well-being are paramount, as well as the need for public safety. The bill has provisions regarding time frames within which competency and commitment hearings must be held, revised time for dismissal of certain charges for defendants who remain incompetent to proceed to trial and other relevant legal matters.
Ultimately, this bill helps the criminal justice system hold on to mental health patients to make sure they are put into appropriate settings and receive necessary care. Rather than simply discharging them without follow-up, this approach encourages their continued recovery by providing ongoing treatment as needed.
Florida ranks 49th of the 50 states for its spending on mental health treatment services. Advocates for these two recently passed bills are pleased with the progress, but they note that more state funding will be necessary to assist people with mental illnesses and help keep them out of jails and prisons.