Proposed Ohio law adds category for involuntary treatment due to mental illness

H.B. 249 would add ‘psychiatric deterioration’ to reasons for pink-slipping.

A proposed Ohio law would add a category “psychiatric deterioration” to the list of reasons why a person a could be “pink-slipped,” or undergo an involuntary mental health assessment.

This additional category would reach people suffering from severe mental illness to get them into treatment or receiving services sooner, lawmakers and supporters of bill say.

“It would cover just a very small subset of people who are already subject to a court order,” said State Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Akron, who is one of the primary sponsors of H.B. 249, along with State Rep. Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville.

The bill also modifies the requirement that the person being “pink-slipped” must represent a substantial risk of physical harm to self or others. The bill would remove the requirement that the substantial risk of harm has to be a risk of physical harm.

“Unless you’ve worked in this field, it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around it, and they usually get very nervous and concerned that this is about gathering up larger numbers of people, when in fact it isn’t. It’s about getting a small subset of people who were already under a court order help before they have an actual, really sometimes irreversible, tragedy,” Galonski said.

Advocates from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Ohio are supportive of the bill, saying they see this as a way to reach people sooner before their mental health decompensates to a large crisis.

“Right now, the criteria is somebody has to be almost in a crisis—full blown crisis situation—and we know it’s not good for people to get there,” said Luke Russell, executive director of NAMI Ohio.

Getting “pink-slipped” also doesn’t necessarily mean someone is going to be involuntarily hospitalized, Russell said. The person who’s authorized to issue the pink slip takes the person to a place to be evaluated to then determine whether they need hospitalization.

“The majority of folks who get a pink slip never get civilly committed,” Russell said. “They go to emergency room, they get their medications, and then they go home and they get stable. What we’re saying is, let’s get people sooner when they start to deteriorate due to their psychiatric condition, and again, the only person that can commit somebody is a physician.”

Training and discussion on what constitutes “psychiatric deterioration” is also being encouraged by mental health advocates to make sure other individuals don’t fall victim to stigma surrounding mental health.

“I think there needs to be a lot of discussion about what it really means and what our processes are to ensure that we aren’t doing anything that violates people’s rights,” said Helen Jones-Kelley, the executive director of Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS).

H.B. 249 is currently being considered in the Behavioral Health House Committee.

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