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Why Sacramento County Hasn’t Adopted Laura’s Law

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SACRAMENTO --

Nick and Amanda Wilcox had their bright-eyed, go-getter daughter Laura with them for 19 years.

"Laura was shot at 11:26 in the morning," remembers Laura's father, Nick Wilcox.

She and two others were shot to death by a schizophrenic Scott Thorpe at the crumbling site that was Nevada County's public health clinic.

What Thorpe did at the clinic while refusing treatment for his psychosis upended everything the Wilcox family knew about life.

"It's kind of like getting caught in a tsunami. You feel a giant wave coming over you and you're under water and you're just groping..to...you know... see which way is up," said Wilcox.

"And after Laura was killed I realized someone else's mental health problem...became my family's problem....and how someone's mental health problem became our community's problem," said Amanda Wilcox, Laura's mother.

The Wilcoxes made their way through their grief by creating Laura's Law.

Backed by the courts, the law encourages help for those in a current state of mental decline who are resistant to treatment like Thorpe.

"A couple of hospitalizations or incarcerations in the last three months or threats or acts of violence within the last four years," said Randall Hagar, the government relations director for the California Psychiatric Association.

Those are some of the qualifiers for the court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment program.

"The court will supervise the treatment and the court basically is there to keep tabs on the individual. They can issue an order for them to participate in treatment, but they can't force the treatment," Hagar described.

Boards of supervisors in a given county must act to adopt 'Laura's Law.'

In Nevada County - Laura's home and the place where she was killed - had to be sued into implementation.

Now, the county boasts mental health hospitalizations that have been reduced by
46 percent, incarcerations cut by 65 percent, homelessness by 61 percent - a savings of almost two to three dollars for every dollar spent as a result of those reductions.

But Sacramento County, the state's eighth largest is still not among those counties that have adopted the system 'Laura's Law' creates for assisted outpatient treatment.

Last June, grand jurors lambasted Sacramento's board and the county.

The panel found that they had quote "continued to abdicate responsibility for mental health crisis services...especially to low-income and indigent residents suffering from serious mental health disorders."

"You'd have to be deaf dumb and blind not to be able to notice that if you walk on our streets in midtown and downtown Sacramento," said Hagar.

In 2009, a schizophrenic Quran Jones beat his roommate to death with a bat in their Sacramento State University dorm room.

Two years later, an unmedicated Sean Ogle hit a window at Crepeville with a bat and then was shot by police as he swung at them.

Ogle was suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Three lives changed forever in two cases that could have been prevented, according to MentalIllnessPolicy.Org, if Sacramento county had taken advantage of 'Laura's Law.'

The board of supervisors deferred to the county department of health and human services for comment about the county's stance toward the measure.

Reps from DHHS would only provide a statement which reads in part "Sacramento County is working on all fronts to build a strong mental health system: expanding and creating a variety of outpatient treatment offerings."

The county also emailed FOX40 fact sheets about other programs courting the same population targeted by 'Laura's Law.'

One of them - CARE plus - was started 17 months before grand jurors issued their report and uses a public conservator instead of a judge as the nudge for outpatient treatment.

While some criticize Laura's Law for adding the specter of the legal system into what can already be a fearful process, Randall Hagar from the California Psychiatric Association says it does make sense.

"Just the addition of the court supervision - with a judge in the background, the black robe effect - seems to make all the difference to a lot of these people," said Hagar.

And when Hagar says 'these people' he's not talking down to anybody.

His own family's struggled with his adult son's schizophrenia.

Chris also has a condition called anosognosia which physically doesn't allow some people with mental illness to understand they're sick.

"And so if you don't know you're sick, why would you accept help," posed Hagar.

That strikes at the heart of why 'Laura's Law' supporters believe the backing of court involvement is needed as opposed to an ever-widening array of services that patients can just walk away from.

Sacramento County still respectfully disagrees.

Aside from differing philosophies about how to approach mental health treatment, financing is a challenge for all counties trying to implement Laura's Law.

The original funding mechanism was stripped out of the bill that created it to ease passage.

But, since 2004, counties have been able to tap into Prop 63 mental health monies to pay for the treatment portion of 'Laura's Law.'