House passes involuntary mental health treatment bill

By | February 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

Doug and Nancy Reuter, whose son Joel died in a shootout with Seattle police, were on hand Friday to see the House of Representatives pass a bill that would allow the families of those with mental illness seek help for their loved ones through the courts.

HB 2725 would allow immediate families to ask the courts to commit or treat a person with mental illness involuntarily.

Joel Reuter

The family and friends of Joel Reuter, who had bipolar disorder, tried to get him help when his behavior became erratic, but were told repeatedly by authorities that his behavior never rose to the level of involuntary commitment.

“Joel needed to be involuntarily committed because he didn’t know that he was slipping into psychosis. But his family members knew. His parents knew, his friends knew,” said Rep. Jay Rodne (R-North Bend), on the House floor.

“We can not not afford to put this bill into law because it will save lives and early intervention will spare the tragedy that Joel and his family underwent,” Rodne said.

“This bill gives families one more option, one that I believe they need,” said bill sponsor Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle). “I am hoping this will give families one more option and prevent tragedies.”

Under the current involuntary treatment law, a designated mental health professional must sign off to commit someone involuntarily. The patient must be at grave risk to oneself or others, either through threatening to harm someone or oneself, or through becoming unable to take care of one’s basic needs.

House bill 2725 would allow immediate family members to petition the courts if the patient is denied involuntary commitment by the mental health professional. The courts can review denials and could  reverse the decision, taking the family’s testimony into account.

Friends and family of people with mental illnesses testified to being unable to help with their loved ones’ erratic and dangerous behaviors.

However, a House committee also received testimony against the bill earlier this month, that the bill would burden the already overcrowded system and wouldn’t help with capacity issues.

Families seek help for mental health commitments

By | February 3, 2014 | 0 Comments

Doug and Nancy Reuter testified Monday that their son, Joel Reuter, might not have died in a shootout with Seattle police if his family could have convinced authorities to commit him for his deteriorating mental health.

Doug Reuter described to the House Judiciary Committee how their family tried in vain for authorities to decide that Joel’s increasingly erratic beliefs and behavior rose to the level of involuntary commitment.

“I was told that if he had a loaded gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger, then we

Joel Reuter

could get him help. That’s exactly what Joel had in his hand on July 5,” Doug Reuter said before breaking down in tears. “And the help they gave him was to kill him”

The Reuter family and other family members of people with mental illnesses told legislators Monday they need more help getting their loved ones into involuntary treatment. House Bill 2725, and its companion Senate Bill 6513, would offer a way for families to appeal to the courts if their family members have been denied involuntary treatment.

Joel Reuter had been undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder, but he stopped taking his medications. His friends also tried to intervene.

“We contacted the Adult Protective Services. We were told there was nothing we could do. We called the crisis hotline. Same thing. Police. Same thing. We contacted therapists. Same thing,” Reuter’s friend Kathleen Johnson said.

After Reuter died, a counselor at Harborview Medical Center told Katie Wixom, another of his friends, there was nothing anyone could have done to force him into treatment.

“She said all of us here knew Joel and we wanted to help Joel but there’s not a system to allow us to help him,” Wixom said.

Under the current involuntary treatment law, a designated mental health professional must sign off to commit someone involuntarily. The patient must be at grave risk to oneself or others, either through threatening to harm someone or oneself, or through becoming unable to take care of one’s basic needs.

House bill 2725 would allow immediate family members to petition the courts if the patient is denied involuntary commitment by the mental health professional. The courts can review denials and could  reverse the decision, taking the family’s testimony into account.

However, Mike De Felice, a public defender who works with mental health cases in King County Civil Commitment Court, testified in opposition. He says the bill would put a strain on an overburdened court system.

“This system is already so overwhelmed that our particular court had to turn a waiting room into another courtroom to deal with these cases each day. And now we’re talking about creating a third courtroom,” he said.

Also speaking in opposition, David Lord with Disability Rights Washington says the proposal would be ineffective without addressing overcrowding in hospitals.

“If you just change the law, and if you don’t have places for people to go, then I don’t see what you have done,” he said.

But families of the mentally ill say the bill would catch people who are falling through the cracks.

“We’re desperate. My son has lost just about everything. He insists he is not mentally ill, that everyone else is responsible for his difficulties,” Steve Danishek told the House Committee. “It’s one more tool for us to appeal to the courts for help. We desperately need your support on this bill.”

The companion bill was heard Monday in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.

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Mental health bills, education measure on ‘Legislative Review’

By | March 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

On Thursday’s “Legislative Review,” we have details about a couple mental health bills considered in the House Judiciary committee. One would speed up the implementation of an involuntary commitment law that the Legislature passed three years ago, but never funded. Another bill aims to break the backlog of people waiting in jail for competency exams to stand trial. Counties that are falling behind on evaluations would be allowed to hire outside experts to conduct the exams, at an estimated cost of $800 per evaluation. The state would reimburse counties for the cost. Plus, we have details on an education bill that is designed to boost student performance.

Involuntary commitment, ferry design and Senate floor action on ‘Legislative Review’

By | February 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

On Tuesday’s “Legislative Review,” we have details about a bill that would accelerate the implementation of the state’s involuntary commitment law. In 2010, the state Legislature passed a law making it easier to commit dangerous people with mental illnesses. But it never got funded. The measure discussed Wednesday would provide funding and move up the implementation date to next year.

We also cover Senate floor action, as well as a public hearing over a measure that would prohibit the state’s ferry department from designing boats in the future.