The Baker Act, What Is It? How Is It Used During A Mental Health Crisis?

Dec 14, 2023 at 11:09 am by Matt

The Baker Act in Florida, also referred to as the Florida Mental Health Act, was established in 1972 by Maxine Baker, the first woman to serve in the Florida Legislature, with the primary goal of addressing mental health crises. This legislation permits the involuntary detention and examination of individuals believed to be a threat to themselves or others due to a mental health crisis.

Initiating 53% of Baker Act cases, law enforcement officers are often prompted by 911 calls from concerned individuals, whereas mental health professionals or physicians contribute to 45%, and judicial orders make up the remaining 2%. However, it is crucial to note that calling for someone to be Baker-Acted doesn't guarantee immediate enforcement, as officers are mandated to assess the perceived threat level.

Perceived Threats Lead To The Baker Act

In the event of a perceived threat, the individual is transported to a Baker Act Receiving Facility (BARF), where they undergo evaluation and stabilization for a maximum of 72 hours. Contrary to common misconceptions, the Baker Act's primary purpose is not treatment but rather evaluation, stabilization, and the formulation of a treatment plan.

Upon arrival at the receiving facility, mental health specialists conduct a thorough assessment of the patient. If the criteria for Baker Act application are met, stabilization may involve the administration of medications. Subsequently, a magistrate or judge engages in discussions regarding a comprehensive treatment plan, encompassing follow-up appointments, medication management, and arrangements for ongoing care. For those lacking a support system, a guardian advocate is frequently appointed.

Inherent Drawbacks

Despite its well-intentioned purpose, the Baker Act has inherent drawbacks. In the fiscal year 2021-2022, 22% of patients underwent multiple Baker Act exams within a year, with 27% being examined more than once over a three-year period. Recurring instances are notably prevalent among individuals without access to medications, often due to being uninsured.

Furthermore, being subjected to the Baker Act carries a stigma that adversely impacts various aspects of life, including employment prospects, as it results in the creation of a law enforcement record. Dr. Marni Stahlman, president of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida, emphasizes the traumatic experience, as individuals in crisis are handcuffed and transported in police vehicles.

Efforts to Decriminalize The Baker Act

While efforts to "decriminalize" the Baker Act have been limited, select law enforcement agencies, such as the Orlando Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office, have implemented specialized units trained to de-escalate mental health crises. Despite the commendable intentions of the act, there is an increasing need to reassess and modify the approach to better align with contemporary challenges in mental health. For those facing a mental health crisis or individuals seeking help for someone they know, calling 211 locally or 988 for the suicide and crisis lifeline connects individuals with trained dispatchers who can assist in finding the necessary care.

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