Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Group Seeking Improvements to Baker Act; State Officials Are Examining Treatment of the Mentally Ill

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Group Seeking Improvements to Baker Act; State Officials Are Examining Treatment of the Mentally Ill

Article excerpt

Byline: KEN LEWIS

The 20-year-old Jacksonville woman swallowed a handful of Tylenol then announced she wanted to die. Jacksonville police responded, transporting her to Shands Jacksonville hospital under the Baker Act.

While police handle this kind of case on the street on a daily basis, a state work group is investigating how to improve the Florida law that covers involuntary commitment of people who pose a threat to themselves and others. The effort is driven by the ever-increasing demands on the system, authorities said.

Jacksonville officials also are educating themselves about methods of centralizing treatment. For now, area patients are transported to one of eight facilities. Police have to use whichever facility is closest. On Nov. 17, a group of police, city and state officials will travel to Orlando to witness a new centralized system in use there.

"We're trying to move toward a better-coordinated system with an assessment center," said Dick Warfel, supervisor of the Jacksonville Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

"We're still in the exploration stage," Warfel said. "We're trying to have folks understand it, and see if it's something people want."

The state work group could be making recommendations about the Baker Act and the treatment early next year, according to Ken DeCerchio, Children and Families assistant secretary of substance abuse and mental health.

The group has focused on three topics:

-- Identifying what changes need to be made to the law.

-- Examining how to coordinate the aspects of crisis response, such as law enforcement, receiving facilities, stabilization units, emergency rooms.

-- Finding alternatives to hospitalization.

The group will meet again Dec. …

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