Susan Wezel had been committed to New York City’s hospital wards more than a dozen times in 10 years, the Washington Post reports. She refused to take her medication or follow treatment. Because of a New York state law, Wezel hasn’t been hospitalized in more than a year. She doesn’t wander the streets at night. She takes medication willingly. She has plans to follow her dream of singing at a local nightspot, something unthinkable 18 months ago. Wezel and her caseworker agree that the transformation occurred because of the law, which allowed officials to force her into outpatient treatment after she was discharged from a hospital.
Known as Kendra’s Law, it is considered one of the most far-reaching mental health statutes in the country. It gives great latitude to doctors, social workers. and relatives to take mentally ill people before a judge to force them into treatment, and it provides money for clinical services. Kendra’s Law, named after Kendra Webdale, a 32-year-old woman who was killed in 1999 when she was pushed in front of a New York City subway train by a mentally ill man, allows courts to use a much lower standard than traditionally to force outpatient mental health treatment. To qualify for forced treatment under Kendra’s Law, a person must have been hospitalized twice within the previous three years; must have shown violent behavior toward himself or others in the previous four years; and must need treatment to “prevent a relapse or deterioration which would be likely to result in serious harm to the person or others.” New York officials say the law has been effective. A 2005 study found that a sample of patients treated under Kendra’s law were more likely to participate in care, take their medication and follow up with caseworkers than when they were not treated under the law.