NYAPRS Note: The following piece in today’s Legislative Gazette underscores the controversy and opposition that exists to expanding Kendra’s Law and the appropriately careful consideration Assembly Mental Health Committee Chairman Felix Ortiz is giving to the broader issue of how best to serve individuals in need.
Effectiveness Of Kendra’s Law Being Debated
By Alli Sofer Legislative Gazette April 30, 2012
Concerns raised over an amendment to the controversial Kendra’s Law have led to a re-examination by the chair of the Assembly Health Committee.
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, released a statement saying it is “imperative that we take into account not only those in support of a bill, but those who oppose the bill,” when determining a course of action. Ortiz, the Health Committee chairman, says the committee has received multiple memorandums and messages of opposition to a proposed amendment to Kendra’s Law. Concerns raised over an amendment to the controversial Kendra’s Law have led to a re-examination by the chair of the Assembly Health Committee.
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, released a statement saying it is “imperative that we take into account not only those in support of a bill, but those who oppose the bill,” when determining a course of action. Ortiz, the Health Committee chairman, says the committee has received multiple memorandums and messages of opposition to a proposed amendment to Kendra’s Law.
The law is named for Kendra Webdale, a woman killed in 1999 when Andrew Goldstein, a man diagnosed with, but not seeking treatment for, schizophrenia pushed her onto a subway track in Manhattan. Kendra’s Law authorizes involuntary court ordered treatment for those with severe mental illness who are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision.
A proposed amendment (S.4881/A.6987) meant to streamline and improve the law, sponsored by Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, has brought new attention to the law, set to sunset in 2015.
Specifically, the amendment would close a loophole in the legislation that makes the mandated treatment unenforceable, should the patient move to a different county. It will also require an evaluation of mentally ill prisoners or involuntarily committed patients prior to release.
Advocates on both sides of the issue have been lobbying lawmakers recently. Proponents say the mandated Assisted Outpatient Treatment has a history of success in treating mentally ill patients. The law, they say, closes gaps in outpatient treatment and the prison system. Opponents of Kendra’s Law say there are better avenues to explore in order to help those in need. They say Kendra’s Law is a “false solution” which plays to stereotypes running amok in the mental health community.
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services Executive Director Harvey Rosenthal says the fuss over Kendra’s Law often distracts from the real issue, which is ensuring “active, appropriate services are afforded to people with the most needs.”
“Almost every single mental health advocacy group opposed the measure and has for the past few years,” said Rosenthal. “We think this is the wrong way to go. It’s not a proven way to go. It’s not a preferred way to go and shouldn’t be policy of the state of New York.”
Instead, Rosenthal said, the state should focus on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to redesign Medicaid, which would afford more services to those in need and “shore up cracks,” which Rosenthal said let people through and “on rare occasions cause harm.”
According to Rosenthal, those with mental illnesses are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence. Kendra’s Law plays to the stigmatization of the mental health community, he said, with a disproportionate number of people of color affected by the law.
“We don’t need a round’em-up sort of mentality that forces treatment on people,” he said. “Kendra’s Law is a false solution that plays well to people who believe we have reason to be afraid of people with mental illnesses.” Rosenthal said Kendra’s Law is a “dead end.”
“We need to do something better and stronger,” he said.
Rosenthal supports Ortiz’s decision to re-examine the bill. “We stand behind him,” he said. “He’s under fire, but he’s taking the right stance. We support him in not being waylaid.”
DJ Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization said Kendra’s Law closes cracks in the mental health system. “[There are] severe cracks between inpatient and outpatient system and prison system,” he said. “Kendra’s law has a history of success and research legislators ask for.”
Jaffe says Kendra’s Law only applies to those proven to refuse treatment. He says there are many different aspects to the bill. “Among the things the bill does,” he says, “the bill says to hospitals that if there’s someone involuntarily committed, proven dangerous to themselves or others, to notify mental health authorities on release. They can still do nothing,” Jaffe said. “But they can no longer say they didn’t know.”
According to Jaffe, this is so the “mental health authority can see what voluntary services [apply], to see if they need Kendra’s Law, or [if they need to] do nothing.”
As for the alleged racial bias, “this is one of the few laws in New York state that has research showing this is not racially biased,” Jaffe said.
“Opponents [of Kendra’s Law] conducted their own, quote, ‘research’ and made it seem to disproportionately affect certain people. Mainly downstate in public sector, if you compare any sector done in New York state to one in Iowa, there will be a more diverse population. That doesn’t mean it’s discriminatory.”
Ortiz says both sides are being taken into consideration. “While I believe that Kendra’s Law works in instances where involuntary treatment is necessary, the real dilemma of the mental health system is ensuring services are available to those in need,” he said. “Moreover, I have been working closely with the current administration in implementing much needed reforms, such as the use of Behavioral Health Organizations and Health Homes in the mental health system.”
Ortiz says he believes these reforms, supported by Rosenthal, will improve the quality of care and increase availability of services in the state.
“It is important to remember,” Ortiz says, “that the daunting stigma which surrounds individuals with psychiatric disabilities is still a large hurdle that we must overcome.”
He says stigma creates an ostracizing environment, which adds to the difficulty in coming to terms with needing help. “The reputation of mental illness not only makes a very hard decision even more difficult to make, it provides society with an excuse to ignore and hinder the support of those who may be in need of assistance,” Ortiz said, adding real progress will only be made when we become proactive as opposed to reactionary.
“If necessary I will hold public hearings to look into the recent events in New York state and begin to develop ways to address the concerns that arise,” Ortiz said. “We will continue to review this bill and work with the sponsors, Sen. Young and Assemblywoman Gunther on this issue.”
The amendment to Kendra’s Law is in the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee in the Senate and the Health Committee in the Assembly.