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Mayor Chavez to Launch Kendra's Law in Albuquerque; House Unanimously Passed Rep. Gutierrez' Assisted Treatment Bill

2/17/2006 5:50:00 PM

To: State Desk

Contact: Alicia Aebersold of the Treatment Advocacy Center, at 703 294 6008 or http://releases.usnewswire.com/redir.asp?ReleaseID=61171&Link=mailto:aebersolda@psychlaws.org

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 17 /U.S. Newswire/ -- In the wake of the time running out on the New Mexico Legislature to enact Kendra's Law, Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and other supporters today said they would persist in their work to implement an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law in the state.

Kendra's Law legislation, sponsored by Gutierrez, was left unresolved as the 30-day legislative session ended Thursday. That bill, which had the support of U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and Governor Bill Richardson, received favorable approval from every legislative committee that considered it, and the House voted unanimously (62-0) for passage. But the Senate did not take a vote before the short session was gaveled to a close at its constitutionally mandated deadline.

Gutierrez, whose bill was also endorsed by advocacy groups like the New Mexico chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, vowed to reintroduce the measure next session. In the meantime, Chavez will announce as early as next week that he will not wait and will take action to bring Kendra's Law to Albuquerque as soon as possible.

"I am proud of Representative Gutierrez for her leadership on this issue and for prompting a much needed debate on Kendra's Law in New Mexico. I regret that time ran out on the bill this year, but appreciate the House's unanimous support for the legislation," Domenici said. "Kendra's Law works in other states. It not only prevents possible crimes and tragedies, but offers fair and safe treatment for individuals who suffer from severe mental illnesses. The people of New Mexico need Kendra's Law. With the strong support this bill received across party lines, I am hopeful it will become law in New Mexico soon."

"Existing New Mexico law essentially forces people who lack insight into their illness to hit rock bottom before they can be helped," said Gutierrez. "It is devastating for families of those lost to the symptoms of their illness to be told they have to wait another year before they can get help. I am pleased that the House unanimously supported this important legislation, and saddened that time ran out before the Senate could vote. We won't give up. I plan to reintroduce Kendra's Law the first day of the next session - and know that next year at this time we will have a law that can help people statewide."

Albuquerque Mayor Chavez is moving forward to ensure that in the interim, Albuquerque residents will be able to use AOT. In December, he announced his intent to move ahead, saying "I cannot wait for the state to act." His message today is the same. "We will fight to get this law for Albuquerque," said the Mayor. "I will not stand by for a year and wait for another tragedy. The small number of people who desperately need this legislation don't have that kind of time. The Senate may have run out of time - I want to make sure that my citizens do not." That will mean passing Kendra's Law at the municipal level.

New Mexico is one of only 8 states without an assisted outpatient treatment law. That means someone too ill to make an informed treatment decision must be left untreated until they are in a crisis and meet the state's restrictive standard for inpatient commitment, posing a "likelihood of serious harm to themselves or others," and then the only option is hospitalization in a state that, like most, has too few psychiatric beds.

Proposed legislation (HB174 and SB335) would have allowed courts to order someone with a severe mental illness into outpatient treatment if a judge found they met specific requirements. Nationwide statistics show that AOT laws dramatically reduce hospitalizations, arrests, incarcerations, episodes of violence, victimizations, homelessness, and caregiver stress, and improve medication compliance and quality of life.

"The trend across the country is to rely on the science to make mental health treatment laws more humane and effective. New Mexico is one step closer to that goal today," said Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to removing barriers to treatment of severe mental illnesses. "The state has many reasoned and passionate advocates, led by the New Mexico chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, who will not stop until New Mexico updates its inhumane treatment law. It is just a matter of time. Unfortunately, when you are struggling to get real help for someone you love, waiting even one day can be harrowing. We are impressed with all the local advocates who fight battles for treatment each day, and awed by their commitment to fix the problem statewide."

Kendra's Law is modeled after and substantially mirrors the law that created the Kendra's Law program in New York, a program called "extremely successful " by the Commissioner of New York's Office of Mental Health. New York's statewide, real-life outcome data show that of those in the program, 74 percent fewer experienced homelessness, 77 percent less psychiatric hospitalization, 83 percent fewer arrest, and 87 percent percent less incarceration. "We know conclusively that the program has been invaluable for individuals who, without Kendra's Law, previously had limited success in using voluntary mental health services," noted the Commissioner in a letter to the New Mexico Secretary of Health.

The Treatment Advocacy Center (http://releases.usnewswire.com/redir.asp?ReleaseID=61171&Link=http://www.psychlaws.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers to timely and humane treatment for millions of Americans with severe mental illnesses.



/ 2006 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

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2006 U.S. Newswire

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