The Baker Act is another name for the Florida Mental Health Act, which is detailed in Chapter 394 of the state’s legislative statutes. The act provides for the legal admission of someone for emergency services related to a mental health need. Specifically, the Baker Act lays out the steps required for someone to be voluntarily or involuntarily admitted to a facility for temporary treatment, usually for the purpose of evaluating mental health, providing a diagnosis if necessary and recommending or planning further treatment.
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Admission
The Baker Act covers two types of mental health treatment admissions. Voluntary admission occurs when someone seeks help of their own volition. An adult 18 years or older can present to a mental health facility or another medical provider complaining of mental health distress; if the qualified provider agrees after an appropriate examination, an admission can occur. For someone who voluntarily presents under the age of 17 and without parental consent, a hearing must be held to determine that consent was voluntary for admission to occur.
Involuntary admission occurs when someone else — a family member, teacher, social worker or other adults — believes someone has a mental illness and the person in question has refused a voluntary examination because of the mental illness. The concerned party must go through the right channels to ensure an involuntary examination is held; the examination must show that the person is incapable of determining whether the treatment is necessary and without treatment, the person could be put in harm’s way or cause harm to others.
Patient Rights Under the Baker Act
In addition to detailing how voluntary and involuntary admissions can occur, the Baker Act lays out a number of patient’s rights. Those rights ensure that the patient:
- Is respected throughout the evaluation, admission and treatment process
- Doesn’t experience a violation of constitutional rights
- Has a right to petition the courts about the legality of the admission
- Is informed about all aspects of treatment and even has the ability to provide input regarding treatment plans
- Receives quality treatment without regard to financial situations
- Maintains a right to vote in elections that are held during treatment, if the right to vote existed for the patient prior to admission
- Has access to a phone for the purpose of reporting rights infractions to appropriate administrators, care providers or legal professionals
- Maintains access to his or her family
How Are Involuntary Examinations and Admissions Handled?
To protect the rights and privacy of citizens, the Baker Act creates guidelines regarding who can initiate an involuntary mental health examination. Just because you think your friend or loved one is acting differently doesn’t mean that you can force them into an office for an evaluation. Instead, if you’re worried about whether someone you care about is struggling with mental health issues, talk to a medical or legal professional for help initiating the process.
One of the first options many people turn to is help from health care providers. Family doctors, therapists, psychologists, mental health counselors or social workers are examples of individuals who can sign the certificate that’s required for an involuntary mental health evaluation. The certificate in question attests that the signing provider conducted some type of exam and believes that the person meets criteria for evaluation; the provider also has to include the reasons they believe this to be true.
Other individuals who can initiate the evaluation include police officers who have taken people into custody and believe them to be in need of treatment or evaluation and the court. The court can call for an involuntary mental health evaluation after hearing testimony about the matter in a formal hearing.
Taking Action on Behalf of a Loved One
If you believe that a loved one is dealing with a mental health crisis, then consider reaching out to mental health professionals for assistance in taking the next steps. The Baker Act does provide you with options, but in many cases, if you are able to talk to your loved one and facilitate a voluntary examination and admission, the first steps of recovery can be more stable and positive.
It’s important to note that the Baker Act doesn’t cover intoxication or substance abuse impairment, and does require mental or emotional problems that substantially interfere with someone’s ability to function in ordinary life. While many people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction are also struggling with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, this isn’t always the case.
By reaching out to a knowledgeable mental health professional, you can get a better idea of what type of approach might be relevant to the issue at hand and walk through the process with calm, caring guidance. You can call us for more information or to set up an evaluation with your loved one; a professional admissions counselor is waiting for your call right now- (844) 211-7944.