Nguyen: Santa Clara County must act now on mental health crisis – San Jose Spotlight

Sometimes, compassion means taking action. And for many of our neighbors with severe disabilities, that time is now.

California families and communities are facing the devastating impacts of our mental health and addiction crisis. Many of us see it everyday as people suffer on our streets, needing advocacy and treatment options. Fortunately, California lawmakers have undertaken a major overhaul of our mental health system and provided tools that Santa Clara County can use.

In October, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 43, which significantly reforms California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorship law for the first time in more than 50 years, expanding our ability to protect and help vulnerable residents. The updated law will help county mental health departments petition the court to appoint a conservator to provide care and treatment for a person who is unable to care for themselves.

Prior to the passage of SB 43, conservatorships only applied to those who had a serious mental health disorder and were unable to provide for their basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter. But we still see people struggling in cycles that include arrest and incarceration, mental hospitals, homelessness, and many times premature death.

SB 43 aims to fix this loophole. It expands the meaning of severe disability to include people who are unable to provide for their own personal safety or necessary medical care. The updated law also expands to include substance use disorder and chronic alcoholism and no longer requires a co-occurring mental health disorder.

There will be increased transparency in terms of data, fairness and outcomes, along with continued protections in accordance with the law provided for in the PPE Act. In other words, SB 43 catches up with the 21st century and addresses the realities we see on our streets today.

Serious mental illness and substance use disorders have a wide impact on family, friends, schools and community members. They are the driver of homelessness and extended life on our streets. SB 43 will help us reach the small portion of our homeless population who refuse help and are rapidly declining on the streets.

While many residents accept voluntary services, few are unable to take advantage of the services that are consistently offered, even when experiencing a severe crisis. Helping people who are unable to help themselves is a compassionate and responsible approach.

SB 43 will take effect in 2024, but counties are allowed to delay implementation until 2026. I strongly urge Santa Clara County leaders to implement this new law without delay. Those living with severe disorders and their families cannot wait.

I have spoken with many residents who agree that we must do more to help those with serious, untreated mental health and substance use disorders. Residents are frustrated because it’s obvious we need to do more. Yet many people are not getting help because current conservatorship laws do not meet today’s needs. Thanks to SB 43, we can now and it is our responsibility as a county to embrace this opportunity.

SB 43 was supported by mayors from major cities across California, including San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of California and leading organizations representing mental health professionals. These experts agree that right now too many people are falling through the cracks. SB 43 will help change that.

There is nothing compassionate about letting people with severe disorders and who are most at risk of harm suffer when we have the means to give them the support and respect they deserve. I urge our county leaders to join Governor Newsom, mayors, mental health advocates and professionals in implementing SB 43 without delay.

Madison Nguyen is a former San Jose vice mayor and council member. She is a candidate for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 2.

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