Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The real cost of assisted outpatient treatment

Virginia has the opportunity to enact meaningful mental health reform by passing Senate Bill 177. This Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) bill enjoys bipartisan support and will allow for people incapacitated by severe mental illnesses to be placed in court ordered community treatment. The availability of such a program might well have prevented the terrible tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech last April.

Sadly, the passage of Senate Bill 177 is now threatened by those who mistakenly claim it will impose too great of a financial burden. This is a myth.

The implementation of AOT as provided by Senate Bill 177 will not be expensive. This program will not mandate any services that individuals with serious mental illnesses are not already eligible to receive. AOT orders merely require the system to facilitate treatment compliance for noncompliant individuals by providing them with the existing services they need to remain stable and to prevent the severe consequences associated with untreated mental illnesses.

The proof that AOT will not require the creation of new services can be found within the language of Senate Bill 177 itself. One of the requirements for granting an AOT order under this new law is a finding that:

“the community services board that serves the jurisdiction where the person resides has the capacity to provide the prescribed treatment or services.”
Not only will AOT not be expensive, it will ultimately save Virginians millions and millions of dollars in alternative costs that come from hospitalizations and incarcerations of persons who do not benefit from the availability of court supervised treatment. In other states where AOT has been enacted, such as New York and North Carolina, participants have experienced a dramatic decrease in both hospitalizations and incarcerations.

Virginians must separate fact from fiction so that true reform can finally occur. The greatest cost that will be paid by Virginians is not in implementing AOT but in failing to do what is necessary to provide for effective and timely treatment for people lost to acute psychiatric illnesses like Cho Seung-Hui.

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