Ohio pols weigh forced mental illness treatment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — More people with severe mental illness could receive court-ordered outpatient treatment and get it sooner under bills before Ohio lawmakers.

The legislation clarifies that such treatment is an option that judges can consider for patients along with hospitalization.

The proposals also set out more behaviors a patient must exhibit to receive court-ordered treatment, such as being unlikely to live safely in the community without supervision.

Increasing such options protects the mentally ill in need of treatment as well as their families, supporters say.

"If somebody has a history of hurting themselves or threatening someone else, a family member could get them help before they require hospitalization or they're picked up by police and taken to jail or, in the worst-case scenario, end up dead," said Betsy Johnson, associate executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio.

The proposal would make it clear that judges, who support the legislation, have more options than just hospitalization for people with severe mental illnesses who appear before them.

"Without passage of court ordered outpatient treatment, many individuals and their loved ones will continue to suffer the anguish of untreated mental illness," Judge Joyce Campbell of Fairfield Municipal Court said in testimony submitted to the Senate Civil Justice Committee last month.

The committee could vote on the measure Wednesday.

Some opponents say the bill will pick winners and losers among the mentally ill by putting the neediest at the front of the treatment line.

Others say the bill could increase the cost of mental illness treatment. They also worry the number of outpatient providers isn't large enough for numerous referrals.

The goal should be funding an integrated health care system, said Hugh Wirtz, CEO of The Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services. Instead, the proposal "appears to be focused on safety issues as a result of tragedies that have happened."

Backers say $70 million a year that was recently added to the state budget for community mental health and addiction services will help offset costs. They also say expanded Medicaid funding in Ohio will free up local dollars that could now go to outpatient treatment.

More than 40 states have similar outpatient treatment laws, including legislation in New York called Kendra's Law for a woman pushed under a subway by a man with schizophrenia.

Linda Hutchison is urging passage of Ohio's proposal, saying it might have saved her son, Joey Hutchison, who died in 2008 at age 45 after running into interstate traffic in Columbus. He had struggled with mental illness for years. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Linda Hutchison said. She is pushing to name the measure Joey's Law as a way of personalizing it to gain authorities' attention.

After spending two decades in prison, her son had earned degrees at Columbus State Community College when he relapsed and the family struggled unsuccessfully to have him admitted, Hutchison said.

"I want my son's life to have meant something. He wanted to live. I know that," said Hutchison, 70, of Columbus. "He really would have had a good life if he could have come to terms with his mental illness."