Kendra’s Law changes removed from budget

Strengthening Kendra’s Law is one of the few areas Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. George Borrello can find common ground.

Unfortunately for Borrello, Cuomo and his fellow Democrats were unable to find common ground on proposals to strengthen Kendra’s Law, with legislative Democrats choosing instead to establish crisis stabilization centers and reject Cuomo’s proposed changes to Kendra’s Law and standards for involuntary admission to an Office for Mental Health inpatient facility.

Not only was Kendra’s Law championed by Borrello’s predecessor, former Sen. Catharine Young, but Borrello personally knew Kendra Webdale, the Fredonia woman for whom the law is named.

“This is particularly personal for me,” Borrello said on the Senate floor during budget debate earlier this week. “Because Kendra’s Law is actually named after Kendra Webdale, who is from my hometown of Fredonia, who I knew and went to school with. Kendra was a beautiful, sweet person. And in 1999, January of 1999 she was in New York City, on assignment from Buffalo, and was tragically pushed in front of a subway train by a 29-year-old man who had a decade-long record of mental health issues. Her life was snatched away.”

Cuomo’s executive budget proposed language that could issue and extend an Assisted Outpatient Treatment order without direct examination by a physician if a person was unable to be reached, had had an Assisted Outpatient Treatment order expire in the last six months or had experienced a substantial increase in symptoms or loss of function. The governor also added new language to Kendra’s Law that allowed consideration a person’s lack of basic needs – food, clothing, shelter — posed to their mental health and how it could manifest itself publicly.

“These are people who have gone into a further crisis, which we have seen time and time again as a result of this pandemic,” Borrello said.

Sen. Samra Brouk, D-Rochester, sponsored the section of the budget bill that included the Kendra’s Law proposal. Borrello asked Brouk if she felt removing Cuomo’s language would mean the newly created crisis stabilization centers would be underutilized.

Brouk said the crisis stabilization centers are a direction that mental health providers are embracing while criticizing Cuomo’s proposed changes to Kendra’s Law as too great an infringement on people’s civil rights.

“I think what’s really important here is that we focus on part aa as a whole,” Brouk said. “Because what we have done with this new version of part aa is again changing how we think about delivering crisis care. So I would put that Kendra’s law is a strong law and should stay the way it was intended. It was never intended to potentially creep on folks’ civil rights, of really massively broadening what we accounted for as a part of that law and a part of involuntary commitment. Instead what we have done is we have created a system through these crisis stabilization centers in which folks will have more accessible care. They will understand where they may choose to go and let’s remember that as Kendra’s Law still stands, if someone does meet the criteria within that law they can be still be committed in that way and go through that process. But to broaden that to the level at which it was presented in the executive proposal really infringes on folks civil rights and really is the opposite of the direction that by and large mental health providers see mental health care going.”

Borrello said, in his view, removing Cuomo’s language makes it more difficult to deal with a potentially dangerous situation before someone is hurt. The Sunset Bay Republican also bristled at Brouk’s reasoning that the governor’s proposal infringed on civil rights.

“The senator talked about civil rights and infringing on people’s civil rights,” Borrello said. “Kendra Webdale’s civil rights were taken away from her by someone who should not have been on the street. And now we’re talking about COVID and it’s indisputable that we have seen a tremendous and traumatic rise in mental health issues. Many have resulted in violence — needless violence. The timing of the strengthening of Kendra’s Law could not have been better. … Unfortunately with the watering down of the strengthening of Kendra’s Law we might see more tragedy in the wake of that.”


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