Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

November 6, 2013

Care options for mentally ill, disabled sometimes unclear

By Joe Lewis - Staff Writer
Journal-Times

Nov. 6, 2013 — Finding options to care for family members who are beginning to lose the ability to look after themselves can be a difficult and confusing undertaking.

That's because the process for addressing mental illness concerns is markedly different from the one dealing with age-based diseases and developmental issues. Both have the same starting point, however.

Those who are concerned that a family member (or even an individual in their community) might have an acute mental illness can begin by filing a mental health petition with the county attorney's office.

The matter then is forwarded to the Circuit Court Judge, who ultimately approves or denies the request for intervention.

If the judge approves the petition, the individual in question is picked up and evaluated by a local mental health professional to determine if the person is indeed mentally ill and also if the individual needs to be involuntary hospitalized for his or her own safety.

If involuntary hospitalization is not found to be necessary, the person is typically released and allowed to go back about their normal daily life – sometimes with the need to take new medications.

Instances that involve alleged criminal activity are initially handled by law enforcement, but even then outside assistance of qualified mental health professionals is sought.

“Each situation is different but in general when an officer has reasonable grounds to believe an individual is mentally ill and presents a danger they shall be taken into custody and transported to a facility for evaluation by a qualified mental health professional,” said KSP Trooper Michael Murriell.

Some individuals, however, may not necessarily have a mental illness but are still unable to take care of themselves as a result of age-related degenerative diseases or developmental disabilities.

In such cases, it may be appropriate for a family member to petition the court for guardianship.

Much the same as with mental health issues, the process begins with a concerned individual petitioning the county attorney to begin the process of determining if guardianship is warranted.

Once a petition is filed, a multidisciplinary team consisting of a physician, a social worker and a licensed psychologist then evaluate the individual in question in order to determine if he or she is truly in need of a guardian.

State law then demands that a closed jury trial be held to consider all of the evidence. The burden of proof then rests on the county attorney to prove the disability or partial disability of the individual.

If disability is proven, the court considers the following factors in appointing a guardian: kinship to the person, education and business experience and capability to handle financial affairs.

“There's no hard and fast rule that says the person filing the petition has to be named the guardian. If they don't want the responsibility, the court can assign guardianship elsewhere,” said Carter County Attorney Patrick Flannery.

Those who are unsure which process to undertake should contact Flannery’s office at (606) 474-2341 for more information.

Joe Lewis can be reached at jlewis@journal-times.com or by telephone at 286-4201.