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Queens Chronicle

New York State to re-examine Kendra’s Law

Legislators seeking to tighten 1999 law for those violently mentally ill

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Jan 17, 2013.

It wasn’t supposed to happen again.

On Jan. 3, 1999, 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed to her death in front of a New York City subway train. Her killer, Andrew Goldstein, was diagnosed as schizophrenic, but was not taking his medication.

He remains in prison, and later that year the state Legislature passed Kendra’s Law, which increased the state’s and mental health professionals’ ability to supervise those who are mentally ill and believed to be dangerous to themselves and others, even to the point of forcing patients to take their medication — when it is enforced.

But in the last year alone, NYPD officers William Fair and Philp White were attacked on April 8 in the Bronx by a man whose mother told them he was off his medications and was not taking court-ordered treatment.

Nine days later, a man with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder drove a knife into the brain of Officer Eder Loor. The 28-year-old cop was responding to a 911 call from the man’s mother.

On Dec. 4, Elmhurst resident Ki Suk Han, 58, was thrown in front of a Q train at the 49th Street subway station in Manhattan after an altercation with a man with a long arrest record. His accused killer, Naeem Davis, a homeless man, allegedly said voices in his head told him to push the man.

On Dec. 29, Sunando Sen, 46, of Corona, was pushed under a subway train to his death from a No. 7 train platform in Sunnyside. His accused killer has a history of mental illness and assaultive behavior.

Webdale’s parents lobbied the legislature tirelessly to pass the first Kendra’s Law.

Now state Sen. Catherine Young (R-Olean) and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Monticello) are introducing bills this session that they hope will close loopholes, the foremost of which would be to make Kendra’s Law permanent, rather than having it periodically sunset as it has since 1999.

Their companion bills would:

• Increase the maximum length of court supervision of treatment from the current six months to one year;

• Require that the appropriate authorities pick up supervision of such cases when a patient moves to a new county within the state;

• Require evaluations from mental health institutions and prisons after those with mental illness are released so that they do not fall through the cracks and;

• Require the state’s Office of Mental Health to prepare educational pamphlets explaining the process for family members looking to get help for relatives with mental illness.

“I was an emergency room nurse,” Gunther said Monday in a telephone interview with the Queens Chronicle. “I have seen the effects of this up close ... We have to close those loopholes. And we can’t let this law sunset.”

The bill failed to make it out of the Assembly’s Mental Health Committee last year.

The Chronicle was able to contact all but one of the members of the state Senate and Assembly this past week to discuss their support for the bills.

All said changes need to be made to protect members of the public and the mentally ill themselves from cracks in the system.

Those responding varied in their levels of support, from David Weprin (D- Little Neck) who said he would look to become a cosponsor, to state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who would like to see the measure more closely tied to gun control initiatives.

All said they would reread the bills in their respective houses before committing for or against specific pieces of legislation.

Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey (D-Corona) said everyone wants to make adjustments, particularly in the wake of high profile incidents such as the subway killings or mass shootings.

“But it’s a complex situation,” he said.

Aubrey is chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Corrections, which oversees, among other entities, the state’s massive prison system.

“We administer more mental health services than anyone else in the state,” Aubrey said in a telephone interview. “We’ve tried to improve what is done inside the Corrections Department. Everyone wants treatment provided and improved. We want better referrals, because sooner or later, most of these people will be coming home.

“But it’s an imperfect system,” he said.

Aubrey said cost is a large concern, with care of the mentally ill who are incarcerated often proving a tough sell when asking the taxpayers for money.

“If we don’t have the resources to provide the treatment, we can’t complete treatment. We can’t always identify it early and provide early treatment.

“The issue is a lot larger than just keeping people locked up,” he said. “You can pass laws to make people feel safe, but you also have to make sure you have the capacity for doing what the law says ... Everyone agrees we need better tools ... And the cost is enormous.”

Among those responding, a spokesman for Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) said he is supportive of the changes.

So too is Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth), whose spokesman, Mike Armstrong, said she voted for the original Kendra’s Law.

“People who suffer from mental illness and their communities should have the peace of mind knowing that Kendra’s Law has been made permanent,” said Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) in a statement from her office. “The proposed legislation addresses the concerns of treatment providers, patients, law enforcement agents and community members.”

She said additional safeguards, awareness and training will make people safer.

“No one should have to fear for life on their morning commute,” she said.

Neither bill addresses the possibility of making civil commitment, or civil confinement, easier. The term refers to the forcible incarceration of those who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Gianaris said he would not comment on a speculative or hypothetical proposal, and all legislators reached by the Chronicle said any such move would have to be properly crafted to protect not only the public, but the rights of the people facing forced confinement.

But some said if done properly, with due deference to civil rights, it might be workable.

“You don’t want to put anyone in a facility unless they absolutely need it,” said Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven). “If someone needs the help, maybe that’s a way to get it to them quicker.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he would like to see some tightening of Kendra’s Law, and will support it if the wording of the Senate bill is appropriate.

Like Miller, he said that at least in theory, there could be mechanisms in place for involuntary committal.

“In some of these cases, I’ve been amazed that the accused have been released to the general public in the first place,” he said. “And remember some of these patients are not just a danger to the public, but to themselves. In some cases, they need that protection.”

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said he would support some changes to the current laws.

The senator said he voted for extending Kendra’s Law, but agrees that there is a need to improve it.

“Whether Sen. Young’s bill, an amended version or a different bill, is taken up remains to be seen,” Peralta said in a statement issued by his office. “But we need to get something done and in the current climate, with the governor’s leadership, we will.”

Peralta has his own bill involving mental health and crime.

He would like to require the courts to strip people of guns and gun permits if they are involuntarily committed to an institution, forced into outpatient treatment, or acquitted of a crime or deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial by reason of mental disease or defect.

He said the bill, crafted in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, has passed the Assembly each of the last four years with bipartisan support.

He believes the current climate will allow movement in the Senate this year.

Peralta said forced confinement for those who fail to follow treatment or take medications always can be an option. But, like Miller, Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) and others, he said it must be done with great care.

“As long as the final product respected the constitutional rights of the individual and reflected the expert judgement of a medical professional,” he said.

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1 comment:

  • LatinSolution posted at 8:38 pm on Sun, Jan 13, 2013.

    LatinSolution Posts: 0

    Why does the Kendra Law have to be re-examined or re-vamped? Is it simply because another mishap occurred and it is just simply a hot topic? Patients are admitted and sped through the system in order to meet the Diagnostic Related Guidelines and many are being either misdiagnosed, incorrectly medicated or simply overlooked. There may be patients that attempt to be admitted faking a mental illness simply in order to have a fresh bed and a meal for the night, overwhelming the Emergency Rooms with occupants. In addition, the limited amount of Mental Health Physicians available does not allow room for complete and accurate diagnosis continuing to cause a hindrance to the ever growing situation. There are recurrent and experienced patients that are admitted for the same and/or similar mental diagnosis to another medical or mental facility simply because they are in need of a refill and are forced to by physicians on another medication where the patient then refuses to accept. This is where the court appoints and supervisees the mental treatment. The requirement for the appropriate authorities to “pick up supervision of such cases” is not only when a patient moves to a new county within the state but when a patient is initially discharged and dumped either to a caregiver or on the streets and with the continued budget cut the consequences will be overwhelming. Furthermore, there is very little to no attempt to return the individual as a productive member of society rather than another ward of the state. Individuals are falling “through the cracks” simply because there is a failure in post hospitalization follow-ups in a timely fashion, specifically 24 – 48 hours time. Caregivers are given minimum options to partake in any hospital decisions or follow-ups. Homecare follow-ups are delayed or incomplete or no adherence to what is expected from Social Service to the case. A Caregiver is not given the opportunity to speak up until a disaster happens and it becomes too late to act. I had to resource to a social web Facebook in order to understand the different stages of “Bipolar Disorder” by reading their blogs. The proper authorities (medical, mental, social and or community outreach) are not in sync of the actual condition or situation of a mental ill individual condition once the person(s) are placed into the legal system for court mandated mental health treatment. Moreover, there is not a specific guideline on how to treat these patients. Each hospital or mental health advocate has their own separate protocol, Physicians, Psychoanalysts or Psychologists are included in this mayhem. The state’s Office of Mental Hygiene may prepare educational pamphlets explaining the process for caretakers and / or family members but should also be advised that the agencies available for assistance are limited to and will not provide any information due to the HEPA Privacy Act. There are outstanding facilities that are willing to help by having “walk-in clinics” available to the public but regretfully due to budget cuts are being shut down at a moment’s notice. Last but not least, the legislature is considering legalizing the use of Marijuana but doesn’t it realize that this drug in particular is to blame for the increase rise in Bipolar and Schizophrenia Mental Health issues? If our Representatives and / or Assemblyperson is to make the Kendra Bill work, may I suggest that a committee be established of different members of the community involved including caregivers and not just the Correction Department. Thank you for your time, [wink]

    Edited by staff.