2017 Kentucky law to allow mentally ill to be ordered into treatment under certain circumstances isn’t being used

Faye Morton, left, joined other supporters of Tim’s Law, named
for her son, to push for it in 2017. (Photo: John Cheves, Herald-Leader)

“Nobody is using a heralded 2017 state law that was intended to help hundreds of Kentuckians with serious mental illness break the perilous cycle of homelessness, jail and involuntary hospitalization,” John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports, based on interviews with court officials.

Tim’s Law, which the legislature passed despite a veto by Gov. Matt Bevin, “created a petition process so that district court judges can order seriously mentally ill people, under certain specific conditions, into supervised outpatient treatment, including medication, counseling and enrollment in public assistance,” Cheves notes. The law is named for Tim Morton, “a Lexington man who was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment dozens of times over 36 years, often involuntarily and in police handcuffs, because he did not recognize that he had schizophrenia.”

So why hasn’t the law been used? Cheves reports, “Part of the problem is a lack of public awareness, court officials said. But the legislature also failed to provide any money for more staff at community mental health agencies or courthouses, or — since respondents are entitled to a lawyer to represent them at hearings — public defender’s offices. All of these state-funded institutions already are struggling with their current caseloads. In fact, tucked into the nine-page law is a short note stating that it won’t take full effect until ‘adequate funding’ is made available.” Also, “Some of the seriously mentally ill do not have responsible adults in their lives ready to intercede.”

“It breaks my heart, it really does,” Faye Morton, Tim’s mother, told Cheves. “We’re very aware of the lack of interest in this.”

Jefferson District Judge Stephanie Pearce Burke told Cheves, “The petitions are going to have to be initiated by the hospitals — by Central State and Eastern State,” which need to identify people who are frequently admitted “and then get the process started for us before their patients are discharged from an involuntary stay so we can find a better way to handle this.”
Regional mental-health agencies could play a role, Cheves reports: “Bluegrass.org, a publicly funded nonprofit that provides mental health services in Lexington, is ready to receive Tim’s Law respondents for treatment, but funding “is very tight” already, said Don Rogers, chief clinical officer. Mountain Comprehensive Care Center, a sister agency in Eastern Kentucky, has a $500,000, four-year federal grant that could be tapped, if anyone in that area ever files a Tim’s Law petition, said project manager Martin Meade.”
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