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    Experimental first week for CARE courts comes to a close
    • October 7, 2023

    No one was sure exactly what would happen on Monday, Oct. 2. Would there be a trickle or a flood?

    It was the first day of California’s “paradigm shift” on how it treats severely mentally ill people, many of whom are homeless. The CARE Act — for Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment — kicked off in Orange, Riverside and five other counties, allowing doctors, licensed therapists, first responders and family members to file petitions with the court, asking for housing and services for people who are gravely mentally ill.

    It appears folks are proceeding cautiously. Orange County Superior Court’s CARE court received four petitions as of mid-day Friday, said spokesman Kostas Kalaitzidis. Riverside County Superior Court received two petitions, but has gotten eight referrals to its Behavioral Health CARES line, said spokeswoman Brooke Federico.

    Details on who filed the petitions — medical professionals? social workers? parents? — were not yet available, and CARE court proceedings are not matters of public record.

    The counties will, however, compile detailed reporting for the state, which will guide the program as it rolls out in Los Angeles County in December, and in the rest of the state next year.

    Orange County expects some 1,400 petitions to be filed the first year — about 27 a week —  while Riverside anticipates some 450 to 800 petitions the first year, or some eight to 14 a week.

    Screengrab from Riverside County video explaining the CARE Act, designed to provide support, medication and housing to the severely mentally ill

    The program has been deeply controversial. Opponents argue that people should be free to chart their own course without government intervention. Supporters argue that civilized societies don’t allow mentally ill people to live and die on public streets.

    Officials insist that no one will be treated against their will.

    What happens now that petitions have been filed? They’ll be reviewed by a judge, and an evaluation by mental health experts may be ordered.

    To qualify, the ill person must be at least 18 years old, experiencing severe untreated mental illness (diagnosed as a schizophrenia spectrum disorder or other psychotic disorder), not clinically stabilized or in ongoing voluntary treatment, and in deteriorating condition, unlikely to survive safely without supervision.

    What happens if the ill person qualifies? A CARE plan will be drafted and must be approved by the court. It would furnish medical treatment, stabilizing drugs, counseling, psychotherapies, peer support and, crucially, a housing plan, or whatever pieces of that are needed.

    CARE plans can last up to 12 months, and be extended for another 12 months if necessary. The idea is to head off stints in jails and psychiatric hospitals, loss of legal rights through conservatorship and, ultimately, death. The goal is recovery and independence, officials have said.

    There are some 7,000 to 12,000 people in California who have severe psychosis, officials said.

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    ​ Orange County Register