County says new program serving residents with severe mental illness is working

in Community/Featured/Headline and

A relatively new program designed to assist mentally ill San Mateo County residents who are a danger to themselves and others has seen positive outcomes, with notable reductions in jail days, homelessness and hospitalization among program participants, according to county officials.

In 2015, the county adopted Laura’s Law (Assembly Bill 1421), which was established in 2002 and allows counties to order people with severe mental illness into assisted outpatient treatment. The county set aside almost $3.8 million over two years to establish a full-service treatment program that reaches out to people not connected to services and who struggle to live safely and stably in the community. The Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) team consists of a team of professionals in collaboration with the nonprofit Caminar, which provides 24/7 intensive mental health services, housing support and life skill development.

County officials say the outreach program is working. A review of a majority of clients enrolled in the first year, 51, shows progress. After a year in the program, the clients saw a 66-percent drop in the number of days spent in jail, according to data provided by Terry Wilcox-Rittgers, clinical services manager for AOT. There was also a 13-percent drop in homelessness, and episodes of hospitalization reduced from 16 to 8, the data showed.

Length of hospital stays also reduced significantly, from 252 days prior to the program to 96 after. Episodes of psychiatric emergency services dropped from 35 to 21.

Such gains have saved the county money on the cost of jail, emergency response and hospital services and Medi-Cal services to the tune of $712,494 over a one-year period, Wilcox-Rittgers said.

Of the 54 enrollees as of Dec. 31, 2017, only two clients were ordered by court petitions to join the full-service treatment program while 96.3-percent enrolled voluntarily.

The AOT receives hundreds of calls and emails referring people to their program, but the large majority don’t meet the criteria to receive care. Through the end of 2017, the program received 293 calls and referrals, with 54 enrolled. During that period, 15 people were disenrolled, meaning they may have disappeared, were jailed, or they stabilized but refused continued services.

Through Aug. 6, 139 people met the criteria to join the program, but 84 were offered services since some folks either disappeared or became worse and required hospitalization, among other factors preventing them from participating. Of those 84, 66 ended up enrolled, eight of whom have since graduated from the program and are now receiving lower level care and living more independently, Wilcox-Rittgers reported.

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley lauded the program for keeping individuals who need care out of jail and psychiatric facilities and from enduring homelessness.

“I think if you look a little deeper into it you probably would find far more impact than the numbers that you showed today,” Hornsley said. “I’m glad we did this program. It may not cover all of our costs necessarily. I still think it’s the right thing to do.”