Many children with older parents worry about whether or not mental illness might take control. In addition, children with older parents also worry about what they should do to help if their parents do succumb to mental illness.
Luckily, there is a California State Law that helps all seniors should they lose their mental capacity. According to the San Diego County’s Aging and Independence Services, the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 1967 spells out when a court can order a mental health conservatorship. The law gives children with aging parents, or the partner of a senior who might develop severe mental problems, a way to handle issues that arise.
With the conservatorship, a person is assigned to assist seniors with mental limitations with their daily lives.This not only helps the seniors, but their families as well.
The attached article by Ellen Schmeding, director of Aging & Independence Services for the County of San Diego, spells out just how seniors can get this help, and what help is available.
Read the full report below.
When Mental Illness Takes Control
September 2013 | Ellen Schmeding
Most of us value our independence highly. But what happens when our choices endanger others, even ourselves? Society struggles with the right of self-determination when safety is jeopardized.
What if your relative has stopped eating because all food is “poisoned”? What if he/she stays awake for days at a time, acts violently at times and goes on frequent out-of-control spending sprees? Or your relative has trouble organizing his/her thoughts, doesn’t make sense, frequently leaves home partially undressed and get lost, but denies it.
California has a law that spells out when and how people can lose any portion of their rights. The Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act of 1967 (named after three state senators who initiated the measure) has become the benchmark for determining when a court can order a mental health conservatorship. A conservatorship shifts certain decision-making responsibilities to someone else.
To be under an LPS conservatorship, the person must be deemed “gravely disabled” as a result of a mental disorder, according to Beth Olin, LCSW, who coordinates the office of the Public Conservator. “Gravely disabled” means that the person is not capable of providing for his/her own food, clothing and/or shelter, and is unwilling or unable to accept mental health treatment.
The office of the Public Conservator has recently shifted from the County’s Behavioral Health Services to AIS, joining the office of the Public Administrator and Public Guardian. This integration provides one central place for families and our communities to go to for information about how to pursue a conservatorship. Many individuals do not understand the difference between a mental health conservatorship and a guardship, and our skilled staff can help them determine which option would make the most sense in their situation.
The Public Administrator handles estates of persons who have died without any family member or other person to handle their affairs.
Similar to the Public Conservator, the Public Guardian also handles conservatorships, but its clients go through the Probate Court rather than the Superior Court and tend to be older adults with dementia who have no one available to help them. Public Guardian deputies can become conservators of a person’s medical/health decisions or financial decisions or both. LPS conservators do not handle financial matters, so some LPS conservatees might also be clients of the Public Guardian.
An LPS conservatorship usually starts after someone ends up in a psychiatric hospital as a result of behavior that could harm that person or others. One of the 10 Public Conservator investigators meets with the patient, significant others and mental health professionals to determine if the person is gravely disabled. A person can be held at a psychiatric hospital involuntarily for 14 days, and then be discharged, remain as a voluntary patient or be detained under another involuntary hold or 30-day temporary conservatorship. The person must be given a five-day notice that the Public Conservator is pursuing a temporary conservatorship.
A Superior Court judge determines both the temporary conservatorship and what’s called a “permanent” conservatorship, but which is re-evaluated yearly, so is not necessarily permanent. Each conservatee is automatically given a public defender to assist them in legal matters.
At any one time, the County has about 900 LPS conservatees who are assisted by case managers who are County employees or representatives from one of 14 different contracted agencies. There are also about 165 LPS conservatees who are under private supervision, usually with family members.
Conservatorship “has to be the measure of last resort,” Beth says. San Diego County is fortunate to have “a richness of voluntary mental health treatment options that can be used before a conservatorship might be needed.”
But once people are on conservatorship, “the goal is to help them off it,” she says.
Beth points to a former LPS conservatee who at one point was unable to take care of herself. She initially required a locked treatment site after hospitalization. But with psychiatric help, she moved to a board and care facility, then back to her family. She enjoyed a peer support program as part of her treatment. Now she’s mentoring others who are in the same situation she experienced.
“We work under the expectation that people can be better,” Beth says. “Conservatorships are important because they can keep people safe and the public safe.”
For more information about the office of the Public Administrator/Public Guardian/Public Conservator, visit www.PAPGPC.org or call (858) 694-3500.