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New efforts launched to help those with untreated mental illness in Stanislaus County

A pair of programs are targeting the need for mental health treatment in Stanislaus County.

Modesto-area residents have struggled with access to treatment. And untreated mental illness is a prominent issue with its ties to homelessness.

Next week, a “partial hospitalization” program will open at Doctors Behavioral Health Center on Claus Road. The center is launching a short-term outpatient therapy program for patients whose psychiatric illness is affecting their ability to function but they’re not sick enough to require hospitalization.

In a second program, Stanislaus County began its Laura’s Law program in late October, calling for voluntary or court-ordered outpatient therapy for people who have repeatedly refused treatment for severe mental illness and are considered a threat for violence. County supervisors received an initial report on the three-year pilot program on Tuesday.

Antoun Manganas, medical director of DBHC, said partial hospitalization programs are a mental health service in many communities, but it took about 10 years to develop the Modesto program.

Some rooms at the Claus Road behavioral center were converted for exams and evaluations, group sessions, education and alternative therapy. The short-term care includes individual and group therapy, meetings with families, education to help patients understand and cope with their illness, and medication management.

Manganas said patients are in the program Monday through Friday for two to four weeks. They have weekly meetings with a treatment team, including a psychiatrist, nurse and activity therapist, to see how they’re faring with treatment. Patients are in the outpatient center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and return home in the evenings to maintain connections with family and friends.

DBHC has a chef to prepare lunch for the patients. Lockers are provided for storing personal belongings during the day.
The short-term therapy may help some patients who spent time in inpatient care with the transition back to the community, Manganas said. Primary care doctors may refer patients who need a step up from regular outpatient visits to keep them from going into crisis.

The program must have a minimum of 10 patients and will start with 20 patients at a time. People are voluntarily admitted or referred to the program by doctors or therapists. The center accepts private insurance and Medicare, Manganas said. Medi-Cal coverage is not accepted.

“A lot of these patients don’t need to be in the hospital and they can really benefit from outpatient treatment,” Manganas said. Insurance companies don’t mind paying for the service, he said, because it’s less costly than inpatient care.

In late October, the county launched assisted outpatient treatment, or a Laura’s Law program, to reach adults who refuse treatment for severe mental illness. Thus far, about 30 adults have been referred to county Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. According to Tuesday’s report to county supervisors, four people were matched up with mental health services. BHRS staff members are working with 10 adults on voluntary participation in outpatient treatment. Five of those referred did not meet the criteria. The county department said it will soon petition a Superior Court judge to schedule hearings for a few adults who have not complied.

Rhonda Allen of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who serves on an oversight committee, said most referrals have come from families wishing to help a loved one. At the moment, BHRS is allowing a fair amount of time for voluntary compliance before making petitions to the court.

Allen said law enforcement agencies have not utilized the program thus far. NAMI members have talked with Modesto police and plan to meet with the county’s new sheriff. “The intent of assisted outpatient treatment is to get help for these people faster so they do not end up a statistic,” Allen said.

Stanislaus joined other counties in California in adopting Laura’s Law, a state bill passed in 2002 after a young woman was slain in Nevada County by a delusional man who had resisted treatment.

Laura’s Law programs use the authority of a judge to compel untreated individuals to comply with a therapy plan, so they don’t hurt someone or perish on the streets. There are no penalties for noncompliance with the court orders. Advocates for the law suggest the judge’s bearing in a courtroom setting, or “black robe” effect, is instrumental in getting many people to comply with treatment.

Under the law, those referred to BHRS must be 18 years or older, have a history of serious mental illness, twice spent time in jail or the hospital in the past three years, or previous acts of violence. The program also is for people who won’t likely survive on the streets or in the community without intervention, according to the county.

A parent or adult sibling, spouse, roommate, law enforcement officer, facility medical director, licensed therapist or agency director can legally refer an individual to BHRS, which runs the program. Residents may call a service line at 209-558-4600 or fill out a referral form available online at

For more information on the new outpatient mental health program at Doctors Behavioral Health Center, 1501 Claus Road, call 209-557-6304.

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Article By Ken Carlson( Modesto Bee)

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