Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Watching a Fire Burn

A Miami-Dade County, Fla. Grand Jury issued a report calling for broad, needed reforms in the way the state treats people with severe mental illnesses.  The Grand Jury was called to examine Florida’s laws with the aim of preventing a repeat there of what happened at the campus of Virginia Tech on April, 16. 2007.  Something the Grand Jury called, “the shots heard ‘round the world.”

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and others involved in this effort should be commended for this unique and insightful approach.  Their warning should be taken seriously by state elected officials. 

The Florida Grand Jury found that their laws, much like Virginia’s and other states, have too strict a standard to get someone with a mental illness needed care.  The current system doesn’t allow for help to be given until there is a crisis.  This jury wants to avoid the crisis.

The results “are akin to having a forest ranger posted in a forest to watch for fires.  However, the law says the ranger cannot call the firefighters at the first sign of smoke,” the Grand Jury report states.  “Of course, by the time he is able to confirm that a fire is in fact blazing, significant damage has already been done.”

The Grand Jury wants the system changed so that treatment is provided, “at the first wisp of smoke.”  They point to the Treatment Advocacy Center’s Model Law as a way to clear the smoke. 

“We believe,” the Grand Jury concluded, “the TAC Model Law should form the framework for changes to Florida’s involuntary inpatient and outpatient treatment laws.  Making these changes will surely cause a shift in the way we have dealt with the mentally ill for years.”

Making these changes will not be easy.  Less than 24 hours after the Grand Jury issued the report, critics were already lining up.  Nice ideas, but too expensive.  Really?  This is what the jury of their peers had to say.

“The fire is out of control.  The total costs, as it relates to the amount of time, effort and resources it will take to extinguish the raging inferno have grown exponentially from the point in time when a ranger spotted the first wisps of smoke.”