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JIM BASSLER: Supervisors should adopt Laura's Law

  • 10/23/2011: A7:
    9/01/2011: A1:
    PC: James Bassler, the father of Aaron Bassler, has been concerned for years about his son's mental health, and warned law enforcement, court and mental health officials about it earlier this year. Photo taken at his home on Wednesday, August 31, 2011, in Ft. Bragg, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

What Laura's Law is really about is whether the Mendocino County supervisors take the toughest cases of severe mental illness seriously ("Mendocino hopes to stop future Basslers," July 11).

Laura's Law first provides a process to identify people with an illness who have proved, through hospitalizations or jailing, that they are not functioning well in the community. These are people who will continue to suffer, along with the community, unless we try to treat their illness. This suffering can be deep and randomly distributed in the community, as recent history shows.

Laura's Law then requires high-level officials of the mental health and criminal justice systems to collaborate and oversee the delivery of proven services to the client. This collaboration and oversight is very important in gaining client cooperation and ensuring delivery of needed services to the client. The goal is wellness, and for these tough cases you need this team effort. For any kind of success, a team needs leadership, and this is where the board needs to set the goal and lay down the law by implementing Laura's Law.

Why Laura's Law and why not something else? Because the many parts of our county government have not worked very well together on this issue in the past. Asking them to come up with something else they all agree to would be asking too much.

The Board of Supervisors is too busy to micro-manage this issue. The fact is Laura's Law is available now, and it has proven to work very well to achieve the goal sought after. Unless you're looking for excuses, the only place you need look is to the Nevada County experience with the law.

Our two counties are similar in population and resources, yet look at the contrast. Read the Nevada County grand jury report and how it commended their mental heath system, and then compare it to our grand jury report. The citizens I've talked to in both counties' have generally the same opinion as their grand juries. I don't think they have better people in Nevada County government. The law was forced on them, and it worked. It's now considered a success by those in government.

There is a lot to learn by looking at Nevada County and how this law was implemented. Success is hard to ignore. If anything had gone wrong, it would have been news in every major paper in the state. Yet many like to look to other counties that have not implemented Laura's Law for excuses to do less.

With respect to severe mental illness, our county overall has a "can't do, can't change, can't fund and can't help" attitude. The supervisors need to provide the leadership to change that mindset.

I am aware of more than one case in the last several weeks that was very serious and possibly life-threatening, cases that were handled by low-level county employees who simply responded with, <CF102>I can't help. <CF101>We need the county to take these situations far more seriously. Laura's Law forces an effective serious response and provides some accountability to a system that lacks both.

To delay implementation or try to find an alternative is to waste money on jailing and hospitalizations while staff fumbles with ideas that may never happen. You will be feeding the "can't do" attitude. All the while a number of severely ill people, along with the community, suffer from lack of a needed response.


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