Coined after Maxine Baker, a former Florida representative known for her work on mental health issues, the Florida Baker Act allows involuntary commitment to a mental health treatment facility for up to 72 hours if the person in question meets certain criteria. The law, established in 1971, specifies that there must be a reasonable assumption or confirmation of mental illness, clear refusal of voluntary examination from the individual and a serious threat of harm to oneself or others. The intentions behind the law seem good-hearted, but after almost 50 years, the Baker Act needs to change if it aims to cause change.
After 72 hours without discharge, the facility can ask for the person’s consent to continue treatment voluntarily or an administrator can file a petition through the circuit court for involuntary placement. This means that treatment through the Baker Act may begin a road to recovery and, oftentimes, save lives. However, the Baker Act can cause serious problems that only further hurt the patient. The Health Law Firm, a law firm dedicated to providing legal services in subjects surrounding health care, addresses several common cases such as lack of appropriate medical care, misdiagnosis, separation from the patient’s usual psychiatrist or therapist and erroneous placement (i.e. a child assigned to a facility unfit for children).
“Over the past decade, the number of people Baker-Acted nationwide has increased by 64%” according to the Florida Times-Union. With the influx of people admitted to mental health facilities, doubt arises about the validity of admittances. Florida resident Ayana Lage recounts her experience with the Baker Act and how she felt during her treatment.
“My hospital stay was unremarkable, and it also didn’t provide any groundbreaking insights into my mental health,” Lage said to the Tampa Bay Times. “As I began to talk to friends about my hospital stay, they shared their own involuntary commitment horror stories — watching loved ones being admitted against their will and released with little support.” This first-hand report shows the realities of the Baker Act and its inadequate practices.
The Florida Baker Act helps remove people from dangerous situations, but in the matter of mental health across the nation, the law needs reform in order to provide proper treatment for those in need of it.