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Let's Improve Kendra's Law Now

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(Dec. 5, 2012) When Kendra Webdale was pushed to her death on the subway tracks of New York City by a man with untreated schizophrenia 14 years ago, the tragedy galvanized the state to create the nation’s most widely used assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law. It was named “Kendra’s Law” in her honor.

Now another New Yorker, Ki-Suk Han, 58, has been pushed to his death in the path of an oncoming subway train. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters last night that alleged perpetrator Naeem Davis, 30, “appeared to [have] a psychiatric problem.”

The mayor stressed that subway pushings are extraordinarily rare in New York. This is true. Yet even one death resulting from a treatable disease that wasn’t being treated should give us pause. And, in reality, one is not even the tip of the iceberg. At least 10% of the nation’s homicides are estimated to result from untreated mental illness annually – nearly 1,700 preventable deaths in 2011 alone.

Two years ago, the Treatment Advocacy Center proposed legislation in New York to make improvements to Kendra’s Law, which has provided more than 10,000 participants with the boost they needed to begin recovery and has been shown effective by multiple studies to reduce the consequences of untreated mental illness.

Among other things, the improvements would have increased the maximum length of an initial AOT order from six months to one year, required counties to establish procedures for review of the need for AOT renewals, allowed AOT orders to remain in place when patients relocate to other counties, ensured greater attention to AOT patients who go missing, and prevented AOT from expiring until a missing patient is located.

The bill died twice in committee.

New York Senator Catharine Young (R,C,I-Olean), one of the bills' sponsors, has now issued a call to reconsider it. “We cannot wait any longer,” she said in a Dec. 5 statement.

We agree. In the wake of this latest subway death, we propose that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York legislature take action to strengthen Kendra's Law. Surely these reforms would increase the chances that others like Naeem Davis receive treatment before people like Ki-Suk Han and Kendra Webdale lose their lives.  

Read the reaction of Kendra Webdale’s father, Ralph, to the latest subway tragedy in "Horrifying subway homicide causes parents to relive death of daughter hurled to her death in January 1999" (Daily News, Dec. 5). 

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