The county is gearing up to help enforce Kendra's Law by having two mental health agencies establish mobile units to assist the mentally ill.
Lake Shore Behavioral Health Center, 951 Niagara St., is creating a five-member mobile unit, headed by a psychiatrist, to deal with mentally ill people, whether they are newly discharged from a hospital or homeless.
The mentally ill who are retarded or physically disabled will be the responsibility of Community Services for the Developmentally Disabled, 452 Virginia St.
The county Legislature has appropriated $641,000 to launch the new programs. Financing for the treatment teams will become part of the county budget starting next year.
Kendra's Law, signed in August by Gov. Pataki, is named for Kendra Webdale, a native of Fredonia. The 32-year-old woman died Jan. 3 when she was pushed in front of a Manhattan subway train by Andrew Goldstein, who was suffering from schizophrenia and had stopped taking his medication, according to his lawyer.
The law allows courts to order mentally ill people to take their medication and receive other health services for their mental conditions. If they refuse, they can be held against their will in institutions while authorities make sure they are getting needed treatment.
It also allows close family members, roommates, psychiatrists, local mental health officials and others to petition a judge to issue a court order for a mentally ill person to receive the services he or she needs on an outpatient basis. Those services can include anything from taking their medication to alcohol or substance abuse counseling.
Local agencies say they have a 90-day period to devise methods to enforce the law.
The two new Program of Assertive Community Treatment teams, will travel by van to mentally ill patients -- in hospitals, family homes, boarding houses or shelters -- or locate them on the streets. The teams will help the mentally ill take charge of their lives and make sure they follow the course of treatment developed for them.
"I know where these people are," said John Flynn, director of treatment services for Lake Shore. "A lot are on the street corners doing bizarre things."
Under the current system, he said, some seriously ill people repeatedly were referred by hospitals for counseling but never showed up.
"It is left to them in traditional medicine to get treatment," Flynn said. "Now we will be going out to them. The teams will stick with these people as long as they need help," he aded.
The agencies are looking for a site to share, possibly near the intersection of the Kensington Expressway and the Thruway.
When all is going well, most of his 1,800 clients can live and work in the community without attracting special notice, said Mark R. Foley, director of Services for the Developmentally Disabled.
But since the psychiatric centers started shrinking to avoid costly repairs, many patients have drifted in and out of the courts and county holding center.
"Because of the illness and perhaps the intellectual deficit, they don't understand why we want to help," Foley said. "In the past, none of the nonprofit agencies could require somebody to work with them. We usually relie on people wanting help."
The two teams will share a psychiatrist and will be on-call around the clock. Flynn is recruiting a psychiatric nurse, vocational counselor and specialists in dealing with the mentally ill, including those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
Some clients, although they suffer from an incurable disorder, may have periods of remission and successfully hold jobs.
Both Flynn and Foley emphasize that the teams will be based outside the West Side and Elmwood Avenue area.
Flynn already supervises service locations on the lower West Side, Linwood Avenue, Lackawanna, Niagara Street, South Park Avenue and North Collins.
Some patients will come from the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, YWCA on North Street, Crisis Services, Independent Living Center and Renaissance social clubs and other such facilities, Flynn said.