Disability, physical or mental illness or alcohol or drug abuse can limit a person’s ability to live an independent life. In such cases, a guardian may be appointed to take care of everyday tasks such as housing, education, medical care, food and clothing. However, this post discusses a guardianship with mental health powers, meaning that the guardian has additional powers to deal with psychological or psychiatric issues.
To review, a guardian has the legal authority and responsibility to make all these decisions on behalf of another (who is legally referred to as a ward, incapacitated person or protected person) to protect his or her well-being. A guardian who has powers over mental health has additional authority to admit the protected person for inpatient mental-health treatment.
Admitting a ward for inpatient therapy is a serious responsibility. Inpatient treatment means the ward will not be free to leave. This limits or removes a U.S. citizen’s constitutional right to liberty and due process. Taking such an action is, understandably, a measure of last resort.
A guardian with “mental health powers” has other responsibilities and obligations of that include:
• Making decisions concerning the ward’s mental-health needs. This includes the decision to place a ward in a mental-health treatment facility.
• Seeking the advice and assistance of qualified mental health professionals.
• Exploring alternatives to inpatient hospitalization. Inpatient hospitalization should be the last resort.
• Giving notice of placement. That is, notifying the ward’s attorney of placement of the ward in an inpatient treatment facility within 48 hours.
• Providing assessment of the appropriateness of placement. The guardian is responsible to make sure assessment is done every 30 days. A copy of the assessment must be mailed to the ward’s attorney.
• Giving the facility the ward’s attorney’s contact information. If the ward is admitted to an inpatient behavioral health treatment facility, the guardian must make sure the facility has the address and telephone number of the ward’s attorney.
• Transferring a patient to least-restrictive care once and if inpatient care is no longer needed. The guardian must find alternative care within 10 days after notification from the inpatient facility that the ward is no longer in need of such care. If there are issues in finding alternative placement, the guardian or medical director or both may request the court hold a hearing for assistance.
The longest time that a guardian can admit a ward to inpatient psychiatric facility for mental health care is one year. If inpatient care is required after the year is up, the court will need to grant authorization for an additional year.
If you have questions about guardianship with mental health powers, contact our office. This is a complicated area of law and can be confusing, even for lawyers. We have the experience to help you safely navigate this often-challenging part of life.
In the next post we will look at how to remove a guardian with mental health powers.