Local politicians support bill to redefine mental health conservatorship criteria

Local politicians support bill to redefine mental health conservatorship criteria

CHICO — Local leaders met Friday morning at the Fred Davis Municipal Center to voice support for Assembly Bill 2020, introduced to the state legislature by Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) aimed to increase opportunity of conservatorship treatment for people with mental illness by expanding the definition of “gravely disabled.”

“We all know that the homeless problem in this state has been its most pressing issue. … We agree that some of the most of our mentally ill in our streets need to get into treatment. We have to have better tools to ensure that is the case, and AB2020 would do just that,” Gallagher said. “It would change the definition of gravely disabled so that we would ensure that people who are a danger to themselves or others would be able to get into a conservatorship treatment.”

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea backs Assembly Bill 2020 before a crowd in Chico, California on Friday March 11, 2022. (Jake Hutchison/Enterprise-Record)

Currently, law allows for involuntary commitment and appointed conservatorship to persons who are “gravely disabled,” meaning a person who, as a result of a mental health disorder, is unable to provide for their own basic needs.

AB2020 will expand the original definition of “gravely disabled” to be more comprehensive and to include the condition of anosognosia, an unawareness of one’s own mental health conditions.

“AB2020 is important in that it will allow us to provide health to the seriously mentally ill population who are most in need and who are at the highest risk of negative outcomes such as death, victimization, arrest and negative life outcomes.” said Scott Kennelly, director of Butte County Behavioral Health.

Kenelly said currently, when a person is hospitalized because of a mental health crisis, they are given an extension of up to 30 days to try and stabilize.

After the 30 days, if the person has not been successfully stabilized, they will be referred for a conservatorship. Conservatorships are done through a partnership between the Butte County Department of Social Services and the Department of Behavioral Health.

“There’s psychiatrists involved, puppet guardians, and a court process by which they determine you truly are gravely disabled, a danger to yourself and others and you need to have someone manage your life,” Kennelley said.

Kennelly said people who are referred to a conservatorship usually have a pattern of hospitalizations and failed treatment before the recommendation is made. Clients who go down that route, Kenelley said, have patients rights advocates and due process rights to disagree.

“I hope that if we can get more people off the streets and into care who need it, and we can stabilize them, that they won’t need conservatorship,” Kennelly said. “That’s not our goal to conserve a whole swath of people; it’s to break the cycle of mental illness and to help them come out of that fog.”

Paul Miller, at lecturn, shares a personal story and throws his support for proposed Assembly Bill 2020 on Friday March 11, 2022 in Chico, California. Miller is joined by, left to right, Butte County Supervisor Tod Kimmelshue, Chico Mayor Andrew Coolidge, Butte County Behavioral Health Director Scott Kennelly, Chico Police Chief Matt Madden and Chico Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds. (Jake Hutchison/Enterprise-Record)

Gallagher said the bill will help reduce costs from unhoused people who constantly interact with law enforcement and use emergency services.

“This isn’t a solution to homeless; there’s other things we need to do,” Gallagher said, “But this would help with the population that is actually using up a lot of public resources right now and is maybe the greatest threat on the streets right now to people’s own health and to people around them.”

At Friday’s press conference, Butte County supervisors Tod Kimmelshue and Doug Teeter, Chico Mayor Andrew Coolidge, Chico Vice Mayor Kasey Reynolds, Chico Councilor Sean Morgan and Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea voiced their support for the bill.

“To me, this is about human suffering and trying to find a way to mitigate the suffering of people with serious mental illness,” Honea said. “It is absolutely heartbreaking to see a person who, due to a mental illness, can no longer care for themselves. And because of that same illness, they lack the capacity to understand that they need help.”

Kimmelshue said the Butte County Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to send a letter of support for AB2020. Coolidge said the Chico City Council also sent a letter of support.

“This is an opportunity that we don’t want to waste,” Kennelly said. “This is the first time we’ve had consensus from multiple government agencies; city, county, board of supervisors — at least in Butte — to do something right.”

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