Subway victim’s legacy must not be allowed to die

By Pat Webdale
Buffalo News
May 4, 2005
Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Mother’s Day is excruciating when you have lost a child.

Six years ago, Kendra Webdale, my vivacious daughter, was pushed in front of a subway train by Andrew Goldstein, a man with untreated schizophrenia. In 1999, New York didn’t compel Goldstein to remain in treatment in the community, instead waiting until there was no choice but hospitalization. And hospitalized he was – for enough short periods to total 199 days of inpatient and emergency room services in the two years prior to Kendra’s death. On release, he would stop taking medications and the cycle would begin again.

Kendra died because of purposefully ineffectual laws and policies that prevent treatment for those with severe mental illnesses, many of whom are too ill to make informed treatment decisions. Some commit violent crimes, many more are victimized, incarcerated, homeless – or commit suicide.

Little did I know that I would spend the next six years advocating for treatment for people with the same brain disease as the man who killed my daughter. Kendra’s Law allows courts to order someone with a severe psychiatric disorder and a recent history of hospitalizations or violence into an intensive community treatment program known as assisted outpatient treatment (AOT).

AOT has made an incredible difference: 55 percent fewer recipients engaged in suicide attempts or physical harm to self, 48 percent fewer abused alcohol and drugs. Individuals are more likely to regularly participate in services. Those exhibiting good adherence to medication increased by 103 percent.

Family members have been pouring out their hearts to legislators urging them not to let Kendra’s Law sunset this June.

“Without AOT, my son would either be in jail or dead,” said one mother from New York City. “It alone has made a difference for him by helping him to stay on his meds.”

“AOT changed the way the hospital staff and administration viewed my son and his treatment,” said another mother. “The hospital’s ability to get a court order to back up a discharge plan made them more willing to invest the energy needed to ensure he received the care that he needed.”

“The AOT program is the only hope my son and others like him have to address their unique needs,” said a third mother. “Without it, the nightmare of severe mental illness could be much worse.”

Kendra’s Law has filled cracks in the system that previously imperiled people like Andrew Goldstein. These three mothers have hope that their children will have a future. Kendra’s Law is working for them. But we can never truly know how many people it is saving – you won’t see newspaper headlines about someone who didn’t kill herself, isn’t in prison or isn’t homeless.

Kendra’s name adorns two things that are precious to our family. Our granddaughter, named after an aunt she will never meet. And a law that is saving countless lives and preventing untold tragedies.

Pat Webdale lives in Fredonia.