On September 28, 2011, we kicked off the first meeting of the Elder Care, Disability and Mental Health Law Committee of the Kane County Bar Association (KCBA). The committee, which is co-chaired by Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon and yours truly, will explore issues that impact the law and lives of clients, attorneys, and paralegals. We will work synergistically to understand the law, ancillary services and hidden obstacles for those burdened by unrelenting long term care demands. Our first few months will focus on the issues relating to mental illness.
A few years ago, a desperate man walked into the KCBA office, confronted the staff and demanded an attorney. When they responded that they did not have the power to do that, he threatened, “I bet if I stab you, I would get an attorney!” The staff locked themselves into an office and called the police. That day, they came face to face with mental illness. It is hoped that this new committee will offer solutions for this type of situation.
In July, I attended the National Alliance on Mental Illness national conference as part of a multi-state team of attorneys representing the Special Needs Alliance . Each of us presented on topics ranging from civil commitment to special needs trusts and served at a booth run by the SNA. Attendees shared stories of pain related to a family member with mental illness, such as bipolar disease, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and more. Often, they would bow their head and almost in a whisper say to me, “My son/daughter is in prison.” Their stories provide motivation for this new KCBA committee.
Traditional bar committees focus on the law as expressed by cases, statutes, regulations, and judges. Our new committee will do that but will add the voices of ancillary service providers and stakeholders. A perfect example was a recent breakfast that Diana Law and I attended with Attorney Inez Toledo of the Illinois Office of Public Guardian and Legal Advocacy Services, and Linda Voirin, LSW, Victim’s Advocate of the Kane County Attorney’s Office. One would think that someone representing the prosecution and someone representing the defense would take strongly opposing views. It was enthralling to listen to their insights and illuminating to hear them agree on shared goals for providing quality care for those affected by mental illness; compassionate guidance for overburdened families; and strategies to achieve early intervention for young adults with mental illness before they become misdemeanor offenders. Ms. Voirin noted that as parents age, they have difficulty caring for an adult child who suffers from mental illness. Without adequate legal guidance and social services, the elderly parent cannot manage the adult child’s condition. Both women knew the names of many extra legal resources which play key roles in dealing with mental health issues in Kane County, including:
- The Kane County Sheriff’s Office & municipal police departments
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Senior Services
- Kane County State’s Attorney and Public Defender’s Office
- Elgin Mental Health Center and Ecker Center for Mental Health
- Provena Mercy Medical Center
- Association for Individual Development
- Kane County Mental Health Council
- Illinois Department of Human Services
- The judiciary
Many of these organizations agreed to work together under the banner of the Kane County Mental Health Task Force as shown in a document entitled “The 2009 Kane County Mental Health Protocol.”
We fear what we do not know. We perceive the unfamiliar as mysterious. But we can move forward together to get past the fear and learn to understand some of the mental health mystery - so that our community will be served in a far better way.