Newsday 2/22/10 EDITORIAL: Make Kendra’s Law permanent

February 22, 2010

Tragedies like the death of Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a subway train by a man with a history of psychiatric illness, have declined dramatically since involuntary outpatient treatment of the mentally ill was authorized in New York State in 1999. So has homelessness and suicide for those receiving the intensive case management the law provided. Those are good outcomes all around.

So Kendra’s Law, which will expire soon, should be made permanent. The legislature shouldn’t lose sight of that as it returns to work this week, no matter how full its agenda. The law addresses the dilemma of mentally ill people who function well while on medication, but deteriorate badly when not. It empowers relatives and caregivers to petition a court to order that a patient be provided – and accept – intensive outpatient supervision.

The law was reauthorized temporarily in 2005, amid questions about geographical and racial disparities in its application. Blacks were disproportionately under court orders, and the majority of the orders were issued in New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties. Studies since then have attributed the disparity to the greater likelihood that blacks would be poor, uninsured and in the public system. And there seems little difference in the impact of intensive case management whether court ordered, as it was downstate, or provided “voluntarily,” under threat of court order, as it was upstate.

Either way, the result is fewer needless deaths like Webdale’s.