Report 2019-119 Recommendation 8 Responses

Report 2019-119: Lanterman-Petris-Short Act: California Has Not Ensured That Individuals With Serious Mental Illnesses Receive Adequate Ongoing Care (Release Date: July 2020)

Recommendation #8 To: Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

To ensure that conservatorships do not terminate because of the absence of testimony from doctors, Los Angeles should immediately implement a comprehensive solution to this problem, such as using its own staff as expert witnesses when individuals' treating physicians are unable to testify. In addition, by no later than August 2021, it should develop a revised approach to scheduling conservatorship hearings and trials so that it significantly reduces the rate at which doctors' failures to testify result in terminated conservatorships.

60-Day Agency Response

LACDMH disagreed with this recommendation but can report that due to COVID the court has adopted tele- testimony for LPS conservatorship hearings, eliminating the physical appearance of treating physicians or forensic evaluators at the mental health court. LACDMH has advocated strongly with the Los Angeles County Public Defender Office to allow tele-testimony prior to COVID. This development has been widely accepted and praised by physicians because they have increased opportunities to appear without negatively impacting their primary responsibility to treat their patient. A preliminary review of terminated LPS cases shows a decrease in the number of cases terminated since March 2020 due to lack of a doctor testifying. Permanent adoption of tele-testimony will likely continue this trend of more doctors testifying and less cases being terminated due to lack of a doctor. This will require legislative action. Unfortunately, due to COVID and the significant reductions in revenue for LACDMH and the County of LA, use of LACDMH doctors in the LPS conservatorship process will be limited to outpatient conservatorship cases and other cases in which LACDMH doctors already serve as the treating physician.

  • Response Date: September 2020

California State Auditor's Assessment of 60-Day Status: Pending

Los Angeles describes a temporary change in court practices as having a beneficial effect on the availability of testimony from doctors. However, the solution is not guaranteed to continue once pandemic conditions subside. We look forward to Los Angeles's future updates about its long term proposed solution to the problem of conservatorships that terminate due to the unavailability of doctors to testify.

All Recommendations in 2019-119

Agency responses received are posted verbatim.