Legislation to help families get assisted outpatient treatment for adult relatives with mental illness before a situation reaches a crisis has been approved by the full Senate. House Bill 1697, by Sen. AJ Griffin and Rep. Lee Denney, was approved unanimously by the full Senate on Tuesday.
The legislation is named the Labor Commissioner Mark Costello Act. Costello’s adult son, Christian, who struggled with mental illness for years, is charged in his father’s 2015 death.
Griffin said only a few decades ago, many with mental illness in this country were institutionalized, often against their will. With the move toward deinstitutionalization and community based treatment, laws were passed to ensure patients with mental illness could only be forced into treatment if they were an eminent threat to themselves or others.
"Unfortunately, by the time that happens, it may be too late to avoid a crisis. It’s especially difficult for families who’ve tried to help children with mental illness, but learn once their child turns 18, their hands are often tied when they attempt to get their son or daughter the treatment they need to be able to function safely at home and in the community," said Griffin, R-Guthrie. "The Mark Costello Act would give families a path through the courts to get their loved one into assisted outpatient treatment before a tragedy occurs."
HB 1697 outlines circumstances which would allow judges to order individuals to participate in an assisted outpatient treatment program if petitioned by immediate family members or guardians or those directly involved with the individual’s treatment. The individual must be 18 years or older, under the care of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision.
Denney said before Costello’s death, he had been an advocate for mental health treatment resources in Oklahoma.
"Mental Illness can be especially hard to address, because the illness itself can cause a person to resist the help of loved ones," said Denney, R-Cushing. "Mark Costello was very vocal about the need to do more in Oklahoma. His wife, Cathy, is continuing that advocacy and I am proud to collaborate with her and Senator Griffin on this legislation. We hope that it will give judges a tool that can be used to help those afflicted by mental illness."
Cathy Costello spoke in favor of HB 1697 when it was approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last month. She watched from the Senate gallery as the measure was approved.
"I’m grateful to Senator Griffin and Representative Denney for their hard work on this legislation. It’s heartbreaking for families who struggle to get help for their adult children or other relatives only to hit a wall because current law doesn’t allow for intervention until they’re a danger to themselves or others—and by then it may be too late," Costello said. "I believe this bill can help Oklahoma families before they face a tragedy like our family experienced."
The measure now returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.