New court to treat people with serious mental illness gets slow start in San Diego and across the state

CARE Court has been in session for almost two weeks now, and it’s getting off to a very slow start.

The program — created with last year’s passage of the Community Assistance, Recover and Empowerment Act, or CARE Act — began Oct. 2 and gives San Diego County families and a host of others the ability to petition a judge in the hopes of getting someone into court-ordered mental health treatment. CARE Court will initially focus on people with schizophrenia and related disorders and is designed to hold both the counties that provide mental health services and the people participating accountable.

San Diego is one of seven California counties that are helping kick-start the new program, and by the end of the first week, just six CARE Court petitions had been filed locally.

The region is not an anomaly, it seems. Across California, only 15 petitions were filed in the first week of the new program, according to statistics released by the Judicial Council of California on Friday. San Diego’s total was the highest. Orange County was next in line with four petitions, and Riverside saw three. A single petition was filed in both San Francisco and Tuolumne counties, and no petitions were filed in the counties of Glenn and Stanislaus.

Going forward, figures will be reported out monthly, court officials said.

Outside of the number of petitions filed, few additional details have been released about cases currently under review. San Diego officials did not provide information about the types of people who petitioned the court — whether they were families, first responders or behavioral health officials. It is also unclear whether, after a court review of the petitions, anyone has been deemed eligible for the program.

As of Thursday, no initial appearances had been held, and none have been scheduled in San Diego.

The program is in its infancy, and county officials said the slow start was somewhat expected.

“Most counties and state leadership have anticipated relatively low numbers of referrals initially, with numbers likely increasing over the weeks and months ahead,” Tim McClain, a county spokesperson, said in a statement.

Still, some questioned whether the region could have done more to bolster participation by better educating local mental health advocates, many who work closely with the families of those the program is designed to help.

Linda Mimms, a Poway resident who serves on the Schizophrenia & Psychosis Action Alliance’s board of directors, said people across San Diego County’s mental health space want to see CARE Court succeed but feel like they’re still catching up to how the system works.

“It’s not in the best interest of the population that we’re trying to help here to keep us out of the loop,” said Mimms. “And we’ve been kept out of the loop.”