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Home > Research Articles > Panel Seeks New Standards on Involuntary Commitment

The Salt Lake Tribune

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Panel Seeks New Standards on Involuntary Commitment The Salt Lake Tribune - September 13, 2002 Members of a legislative task force studying Utah's involuntary commitment law agreed Thursday to move forward with a proposal that would change the standards for hospitalizing or treating mentally ill people against their will.

Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, who co-chairs the task force, directed legislative staff members and mental health care providers to craft a bill that would allow people to be committed against their will if they are deemed a "substantial" threat to themselves or others.

The state estimates such a change would lead to the involuntary commitment of about 100 more Utahns a year at a cost of about $400,500 for the extra treatment.

About 650 Utahns are treated involuntarily each year, many in outpatient settings after hospital stays ranging from weeks to years.

The existing statute requires a judge to determine a person is an "immediate threat," which does not allow consideration of any history of mental illness.

Mental health groups began pushing for the change in response to the slaying of Susan Gall in December, allegedly at the hands of her 25-year-old son who suffered for years with bipolar disorder and delusions.

A similar proposal died during the 2000 legislative session amid concerns about personal freedom.

"There's a perception problem," Blackham said. "As a committee we have come to an understanding of what an involuntary commitment is. It doesn't mean we're going to lock you up."

Blackham added he wanted the bill proposal to instruct mental health care providers to use outpatient and home treatment as much as possible. The task force also suggested a change to include family members in treatment plans.

Fraser Nelson, director of the Utah Disability Law Center, warned that the state and rural counties lack the resources to handle more patients committed involuntarily.

"[Rural community health centers] don't have any option other than locking them up," Nelson said.

Nelson also is opposed to requiring family members to become more involved, contending that patients would be forced to "make Mom and Dad happy."

The proposal will be the subject of public hearings later this year before a final draft is presented to the state Legislature for consideration during its 2003 session.

(C) 2002 The Salt Lake Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved