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There are many rights that you have, if you or your loved one has been brought to a psychiatric ward under the Baker Act.
Unfortunately, most people are not told what their rights are.
The Baker Act procedure
How long the person can be held at the facility
Risks of the treatment and the right to alternative treatment
The right to find out why the person is being held
The legal criteria for the Baker Act
Will the Baker Act show up on the person’s record
What happens after the person is released
The difference between voluntary and involuntary Baker Acts
The difference between involuntary examination and involuntary commitment
The right to legal counsel
Who is responsible for paying the bill for the involuntary examination
Your rights and your child’s rights if your child has been Baker Acted
The Baker Act
In a 2015 report, Florida had an increase in the number of initiations of the Baker Act by 60.72% over a ten-year period (2004-2014). There were more than one million, total, initiations of the Baker Act! .
A 59.06% increase in the number of children, aged 4-17 who were Baker Acted, resulted in over 220,000 involuntary examinations.
This shows a tremendously large increase in numbers of Baker Acts in our state, well beyond the population grown.
It’s difficult to imagine how it is legal that a child, as young as 4 years old, could be brought to a psychiatric ward without the parents’ consent.
According to a Florida Department of Children and Families report, Baker Act Consent For Admission and Treatment of Minors, “when a general law and a specific law governing the same subject are in conflict, the specific law takes precedence over the general law.” Specific laws limit how the general law can be applied. The Baker Act as Florida’s Mental Health Act (specific law) takes precedent over licensure and many other statutes (general laws).”
Within the Baker Act law, there is a provision that makes it lawful to take a child for Baker Act examination, if it is deemed that the child meets the criteria.
This makes it especially important for every parent to understand the criteria and to do all they can to prevent their child from ever meeting it. Most people wonder, “What is a Baker Act?” A 72 hour, involuntary hold in a psychiatric facility will remain in the child or adult’s medical records for the rest of their lives.
Many times children, and adults, may be experiencing unwanted mental health symptoms or behavioral health symptoms, that can be traced back to a physical illness or ailment. A thorough physical examination may prove helpful in determining if the individual has a medical illness such as a thyroid imbalance, hormone problem, food intolerance, allergies, tumors or a multitude of other illnesses that can be evidenced by medical tests.
Dr. Ronald J. Diamond, psychiatrist, wrote one of the most beneficial articles on the subject, titled, “Psychiatric Presentations of Medical Illness”. Within in it, he states, “Every time a patient comes into your office, your emergency room or your hospital, there is a very real possibility that what seems to be a psychological problem is caused by some physical illness.” Dr. Diamond mentions many various physical illnesses that could possibly result in mental health symptoms, such as under active thyroid gland or a tumor, among many other physical conditions. He, further, states that “…, medical causes of psychiatric symptoms should always be considered.”
When an individual is brought into the “Receiving Facility”, or otherwise known as “hospital” or “psychiatric ward”, they are given a cursory physical examination, required by law. This exam is indeed cursory and Dr. Diamond, in his article, gives a very detailed description of what a thorough physical exam would entail.
During the Baker Act, the individual, their friend or family member, are put in an emergency situation in which the individual is, most often, held involuntarily and possibly in which the individual is meeting the criteria. There is no room, at that point, to demand a thorough physical examination. The time to do that is either before such an emergency arises, or afterwards so that the individual can be fully informed of the true cause of their difficulties.
There are rights that the individual has at the point of the Baker Act and those rights are supposed to, by law, be given to him or her in the form called Rights of Persons in Mental Health Facilities and Programs. These rights include the right to dignity as well as the right to full information. The individual, under the Baker Act, does have the right to formally request why he or she is being detained, has the right to know the risks and alternatives of any proposed treatment, the right to participate in their treatment plan and many other rights.
Again, it is better to be informed prior to an emergency such as the Baker Act, but it is possible to protect the individual’s rights even if it has been initiated. There are resources, such as Florida attorneys and advocates that can help in both the preventative and the assertion of one’s rights during the process.
March, 2015 report by Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute
Baker Act Consent For Admission and Treatment of Minors, DCF
Psychiatric Presentations of Medical Illness, by Ronald J. Diamond M.D.