By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation into law that will improve access to community-based treatment for people with serious behavioral health issues and make it easier for families to get their loved one’s care when they need it, without hospitalization.
The bill, HB 1773, introduced by State Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-Federal Way), streamlines the process for assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) — a court-ordered treatment in the community, instead of an inpatient setting — and expands who can receive this care.
The issue being address in this bill, which was passed by the state legislature with bipartisan support, is about the process. The legislature wants to make the pathway to treatment more community-oriented and less bureaucratic for people diagnosed with behavioral health issues, so they can find the help they need before they harm themselves or possibly harm others.
“We can’t wait until people hit rock bottom and need to be hospitalized before we provide them with treatment,” says Taylor. “As we shift away from over-relying on law enforcement officers and hospital emergency room staff to respond to a behavioral health crisis, we need to do more to invest in support and resources. AOT expands the tools available to address one of the most pressing challenges in our communities.”
In short, the bill revises the definition of “assisted outpatient behavioral health treatment” and renames it as “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT). The bill also provides new standards and procedures for commitments of persons who are in need of AOT.
“We heard testimony from families who said they believe assisted outpatient treatment was the missing ingredient that may have saved their loved ones’ lives,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), who sponsored a companion bill in the Senate, SB 5645. “AOT is an effective way to get people on the path to recovery.”
Under the new law, “the Involuntary Treatment Act (The (ITA) sets forth the procedures, rights, and requirements for involuntary behavioral health treatment of adults). The bill establishes a new procedure for designated persons to directly file a petition in superior court for up to 18 months of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) and establishes requirements and procedures for the petition process. It also requires the AOT petition to be served on the prosecutor, who must review the petition and, if the petition meets the requirements of law, schedule a court hearing and serve the respondent. It provides that less restrictive alternative (LRA) treatment may include a requirement to participate in partial hospitalization, allows for revocation of an LRA order based on a person being in need of AOT on the same grounds as for other LRA orders, and amends the law governing behavioral health treatment for minors to allow commitments based on AOT for adolescents aged 13 to 17.”
State Rep. Lauren Davis (D-Shoreline), who co-sponsored the legislation, says that there is a direct correlation between the goals Washington state wants to set for itself and the success other states around the country are having by implementing intervention such as HB1773.
“In other states, assisted outpatient treatment has proven to be an incredibly successful model to effectively intervene and support individuals with mental health and substance use challenges on their road to recovery,” Davis said. “Though AOT has been on the books in Washington state for several years, it has been wildly underutilized. HB 1773 is a mammoth step forward in improving accessibility of this lifesaving intervention for our neighbors who are suffering profoundly and desperately in need of behavioral health care.”