Kendra’s law saves lives; it should be made permanent
By Pat Webdale
What is Kendra’s Law? Should we care if it is made permanent?
Kendra Webdale was born in Buffalo, went to the University at Buffalo and worked as a reporter for Buffalo weeklies before moving to Manhattan. She had resided in New York City for three years when she was pushed off of a subway platform to her death by Andrew Goldstein, a man diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The New York State Office of Mental Health was under fire at the time of Kendra’s death. In November 1998, Judith Scanlon, a psychiatric nurse, was killed by a client when she made a home visit unaccompanied. There were not enough hospital beds or services available for the mentally ill and many were living in the community without proper supervision. A partial answer came in the form of Assisted Outpatient Treatment, named after Kendra.
Unless you are in contact with someone who has a serious mental illness, you think it cannot affect you. Many people are full of misconceptions of how Assisted Outpatient Treatment works. Strict criteria are required in order to be eligible. There are built-in safeguards for the patient. It has been proven to be constitutional and not racist. It is intended to be the least restrictive alternative available for the patient. It saves tax dollars.
New York State Commissioner of Mental Health Michael Hogan has expressed his personal opinion of Kendra’s Law to me, one point being to “ensure that intensive services and AOT are used only when truly necessary.” I would agree with him, but I do not agree it should be bottled up with another renewal. I have testimony from countless families that it is truly necessary, not just for quality of life but many times for life itself. Not every mental illness is the same. Certain persons cannot recognize the illness, thus cannot engage treatment on a voluntary basis.
In June 2005, Kendra’s Law was renewed for five years with the stipulation that additional evaluation was needed. The study, done by Duke University, showed amazing results: improvement of self care and treatment compliance, drops in hospitalizations and incarcerations and violent behaviors. Kendra’s law is intended to help people before they become a danger to self or others. The biggest find of the study is that the court order makes the difference.
I will be disappointed in the Legislature if it is not made permanent. Assisted Outpatient Treatment is a safety net for loved ones. Why would we begin anew? I have been involved with Albany politics and have seen that there is an intricate system of not stepping on toes or alienating agencies.
I encourage you to educate yourself on mental illness and Kendra’s Law. If you are personally involved with the system and support making this law permanent, please make your wishes known to the State Senate and Assembly members. Keeping Kendra’s Law hostage is no way to serve the mentally ill population of New York State.
Pat Webdale is the mother of Kendra Webdale.