The New York state Office of Mental Health needs to do better at overseeing timely treatment for individuals under a state law that requires people in a mental health crisis receive treatment, according to an audit released Thursday by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office.

Known as Kendra's Law, the state allows court-ordered Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) for those with serious mental illness that pose risks to themselves or others and whose treatment history meets a set of criteria. 

According to the audit, under Kendra’s Law, local authorities have done nearly 47,000 investigations through August 2023. Of 33,847 treatment petitions filed, 96% were granted. Local mental health authorities are supposed to investigate the referrals in a timely manner, the comptroller said, but a timeframe for this review is undefined. Using a benchmark of six months, auditors found that nearly half of the investigations (19 of 41 sampled) took longer, including five that took over two years.

Auditors said they found when significant events involving these individuals occurred, like becoming homeless or being arresated, information was often incomplete and not well communicated. Providers are supposed to report such events to local authorities within 24 hours to forestall any negative impact on treatment, DiNapoli said.

“Kendra’s Law was enacted to ensure that those with severe mental illness get treatment to prevent them harming themselves or others,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “In many instances, the program is working, but when there are lapses, the consequences can be fatal as our audit shows. [Office of Mental Health] should implement our recommendations to improve the administration of Kendra’s Law at a time when we’re facing a serious mental health crisis.”

Those recommendations are:

  • Seting timeframe guidelines so local authorities and field offices have a benchmark for completing investigations
  • Looking into collecting data on the time it takes to connect individuals with their court-ordered services
  • Improving reporting on significant events to better capture and share information
  • Improving assurance that local authorities are taking appropriate action to renew services when needed before they expire to avoid lapses in treatment and monitoring

In its response to the audit, the Office of Mental Health said they generally agreed with its recommendations and would develop guidelines to define the “timely” completion of AOT investigations.

Kendra's Law is named for Kendra Webdale, a Fredonia native who died in 1999 after a man who said he had a psychotic episode pushed her in front of a subway train.


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