SB38: Mental health amendments receive favorable committee recommendation

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The Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. (Savannah Hopkinson)

A bill proposing three policy changes for mental health patient treatment received a favorable recommendation from the committee Jan. 29.

If passed, SB38, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, would require a mental health examiner to take a patient’s history into account when evaluating the patient for civil commitment.

According to Fillmore, the mental health examiner would be given more power, including the ability to compel records.

“Right now, mental health examiners are not permitted to consider a patient’s history when evaluating for civil commitment,” Fillmore said.

The bill would limit the circumstances in which a court can terminate civil commitment, thus “shifting power a little bit more towards the local mental health authorities at the county level,” Fillmore said.

According to Fillmore, the courts currently have exclusive jurisdiction over the termination of civil commitments. SB38 would allow local mental health authorities to have some responsibility in determining when civil commitment has served its purpose.

The bill would also require mental health professionals to present patients with the option to waive their privacy rights, on the first occasion of engaging with the patient.

“A child who’s 17 but will be turning 18 can sign the waiver saying, ‘You can still talk to my mother after I turn 18,’” Fillmore said. “Or if someone knows that they’re in a deteriorating mental health circumstance, then they can sign the waiver knowing that, ‘At some point I may not be the best judge of what’s in my own interest,’ and they can sign another person to make medical decisions regarding their mental illness on their behalf.”

Now, any patient can sign the waiver, but not all are aware of the option.

“This just simply says, ‘Doctor, when you see a patient for the first time, provide them with that form, explain to them what it does, and give them the option,” Fillmore said.

The bill was ultimately unanimously passed onto the floor with a favorable recommendation by the Health and Human Services Committee.

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