In summary

Californians must change the debate about conservatorship and focus on the people and their families who are waiting for real reform. People like my son, Danny, should be the face of that reform, not Britney Spears.

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By Teresa Pasquini, Special to CalMatters

Teresa Pasquini is a California mother seeking to reform local, state and national mental health systems,

Britney Spears shouldn’t be the poster child for conservatorship in California. The “Free Britney” media campaign has created a nationwide myth-making machine that excludes some of the most vulnerable members of our society, including my son Danny.

Californians must change the debate about conservatorship and focus on the people and their families who are waiting for real reform. People like Danny should be the face of that reform, not Britney Spears. Thankfully, state Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman’s legislation, Senate Bill 507, which expands the criteria for assisted outpatient treatment, is a step in the right direction. 

I have been on a mission to “Free Danny” from the shackles of our broken mental health care system for 22 years. A conservatorship has been the tool he needed to live and stay free. 

Danny has been on a California LPS conservatorship (named for the Reagan-era Lanterman-Petris-Short Act) for 20 years. Families like mine use this type of conservatorship as a last resort, often after being forced to allow  our loved ones to mentally deteriorate, become homeless and sometimes suicidal. Under the law, people suffering from disabling mental illness must pose a threat to themselves or others in order to get through a psychiatric hospital door — only then can they be treated without their consent. Once the individual is committed to the hospital, the law appropriately imposes protections that can extend the stay and require medication.

What the law does not cover is a right to treatment along a compassionate continuum of care that evolves with the patient’s needs. 

Danny and families like mine need a mental health-care system that is flexible, funded and full. What we have is incomplete. 

Because we have inadequate legal standards for judging whether people living with severe mental illness are competent to make decisions regarding their own treatment,  we treat some disabling brain disorders as mental or behavioral issues rather than as medically defined illnesses. Our system needs to stop cherry-picking among illnesses that entitle sufferers to treatment and dignified housing and those whose sufferers are left to live and sometimes die on the streets.

Housing That Heals” is a paper that describes an ideal system of care: one that wraps a person in the medical, clinical, rehabilitative and social supports they need in order to live in dignity. The paper describes how an LPS conservatorship helped free Danny from a solitary cell and a potential state prison sentence. That involuntary, medically necessary care also restored his stability, safety and health, allowing him to transition to an adult residential facility in our community. 

Thanks to the conservatorship, Danny is finally in the right place. 

He is adequately protected when the conservatorship renewals take place. 

He has a psychiatrist and peers who partner with him on his care, a mom and dad he relies on for advice, a public conservator he trusts and a public defender who is knowledgeable in conservatorship law.

He has the mental capacity now to know that he needs support. There is still no system in place, however, that provides the continuity of care that would protect his freedom and dignity if his conservatorship ends again. 

Sen. Eggman’s legislation focuses on people like Danny, who need access to outpatient treatment in order to prevent suffering on the street or in jail or returning to a mental state in which they are unable to provide for their own basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. 

“Free Britney?” Britney has a house, food and an estate worth $60 million to help prevent her from becoming unable to provide for herself (in legal terms, “gravely disabled”).

 She deserves to have a clear, shared, decision-making plan moving forward that will protect her health and wealth. I want that for her, and for Danny. They both have inspired movements fighting for their rights. Danny’s is different: It is a moms-on-a-mission movement for the right to treatment, such as that described in my paper and Democratic Sen. Eggman’s legislation. This movement is growing. Please join us.

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