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Assisted Outpatient Treatment in San Mateo County
Together Towards Recovery

General information

Developed out of the County’s adoption of Laura’s Law (Assembly Bill 1421) in the summer of 2015, the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) is a program that reaches out to people with a severe mental illness who are not connected to services and are challenged to live safely and stably in our community.  Our AOT team engages people in receiving treatment to help improve their quality of life.

We work collaboratively with individuals, family members and partners to provide the right care, at the right place and right time. Our dedicated team helps decrease mental health crises, hospitalizations, incarcerations and homelessness while helping people achieve and maintain their physical and mental health.

For print materials, please download the Flyer and Handout.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Laura’s Law?

Laura’s Law (AB 1421) is a California state law passed in 2002 that allows for voluntary or court ordered (involuntary) assisted outpatient treatment for people with a serious mental illness who meet the criteria defined in the law.

Find more information about Laura’s Law here
Additional resource: www.mentalillnesspolicy.org

What is Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) in San Mateo County?

San Mateo County designed the local implementation of Laura’s Law to engage people who are not connected to treatment and help them participate in the array of services provided by AOT. The AOT team includes a clinical services manager, psychologist, deputy public guardian, social worker, and peer support workers.

The Full Service Partnership (FSP) is a community based program operated by Caminar, which provides intensive mental health services.  The program includes 24/7 care and services such as intensive case management, psychiatry, medication management, benefit and housing support, life skill development, as well as guidance and support to help people reach their recovery goals. 

San Mateo County joins other Bay Area counties, including San Francisco and Contra Costa, and over a dozen other counties throughout the state in implementing Laura’s Law and the AOT. Through this early implementation in other counties, Assisted Outpatient Treatment has been shown to:

  • saves lives
  • reduces homelessness, hospitalizations, crime, arrests, and incarceration
  • helps families and reduces caregiver stress
  • saves money on arrests, incarcerations, and hospitalizations 

Who is eligible for AOT?

A person must meet all of these conditions to be eligible for AOT:

  1. 18 years old and over, seriously mentally ill, and a San Mateo County resident
  2. Have a history of not following through with treatment for their mental illness resulting in:        
    • having been hospitalized and/or incarcerated two or more times within the last 3 years.
      OR
    • having threatened or attempted a significantly dangerous behavior towards themselves or others at least one time in the past 2 years.
  • Were previously offered treatment on a voluntary basis and refused it, and whose health is quickly declining.

How can I refer someone for AOT?

Our AOT team is here to help partner with clients and provide the care they need. Call 650-372-6125 or email AOT@smcgov.org and let us know how we can help.  This is not a crisis service. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency room.

See Guidelines for Calling 9-1-1 in a Mental Health Emergency

What is the AOT process?

The AOT team reviews referrals during regular business hours to gather additional information to determine if the individual meets the criteria for AOT. The team responds within one business day.

If the person meets the criteria, the team will meet with him/her about accepting services. People who do not meet the AOT criteria are connected to appropriate resources.

If someone refuses AOT services, the team will continue to engage and support them in an effort to reach an agreement to voluntarily accept participation in AOT. If the person continues to refuse, a petition will be filed with the San Mateo County Courts for services to be court ordered. 

If the person accepts the services voluntarily any time prior to the court hearing, the petition will be dropped and they will be enrolled into services.

If the individual does not choose to accept offered services, the case will proceed to the AOT Court and legal representation will be provided by the Private Defender’s Office. If the judge finds that the person does meet Laura’s Law criteria, he may order them to participate in the services. Court ordered services are in effect for 180 days with required reviews at least every 60 days.

If the judge finds the person does not meet the criteria, the petition may not be approved, at which time, the AOT Team will refer them to community resources.

Download a PDF version of the AOT process here.

Mythbusters

Myth: Laura’s Law will force people into treatment.
Fact: Our goal is to engage people when and where they need it most.  Many of the people we care for have fallen through the cracks of our mental health system and are in desperate need of high quality, comprehensive care. Laura’s Law provides us with an opportunity to serve people who need help most and work with clients to help them towards recovery, where they can remain in our community and thrive. 

Myth: People don’t have a voice in their treatment planning or goal setting.
Fact: Our AOT team motto is Together Towards Recovery. This means we partner with clients and their family members and work with them to achieve their goals through a collaborative process and ensure the best treatment for them possible. We personalize every treatment plan to best meet our clients’ needs and set them on the path towards recovery.

Myth: People can already access community services for treatment.
Fact: Those who qualify for Assisted Outpatient Treatment services are often unable to recognize that they need help or don’t know how to get the help they need.  Without proper treatment, symptoms can worsen and lead to increased hospitalizations and/or incarceration. AOT meets clients where they are and provides these services directly.

Myth: Laura’s Law is expensive for the community.
Fact: Laura’s Law has already been shown to significantly reduce hospitalizations and emergency services in many counties, saving counties’ money and improving the health of residents who need it most.

Myth: People who get AOT services will be under the thumb of the system forever.
Fact
: Our goal is to help people recover. This means people can achieve stability and be able to thrive in the community.

Meet the AOT Team

Terry Wilcox-Rittgers, M.S., M.F.T. (Clinical Services Manager): Terry is a senior manager who has been with BHRS since 1987. He was originally hired by BHRS and NAMI of San Mateo County to run a joint project with the focus of providing outreach to families struggling with family member who has a serious mental illness living at home and education to our community to reduce the stigma around serious mental illnesses.  Over the course of his career, he has been involved in the creation, implementation and running of numerous programs in behavioral health.

Sharon Langtry (Deputy Public Guardian): Sharon holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health. She has worked as a Deputy Public Guardian in the LPS Program in San Mateo County for over 15 years. She has also served as a social worker for county programs, including Adult Protective Services and Children’s Mental Health Services. Sharon is a dedicated and compassionate clinician, who is dedicated to ensuring the best care for everyone she serves.

Nick Zwerdling, MFTI (Psychiatric Social Worker): Nick has been honored to be able to serve individuals and families with a mental illness throughout the Bay Area for the past six years. He has seen many consumers slip through the cracks of the mental health system and is dedicated to do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.  Nick has been witness to significant change in others through collaborating with clients and always meeting people where they are at. Nick has worked in various positions over the years, including: a clinician in multiple crisis units, an Assistant Director of a transitional social rehabilitation center, and consults for a mental health tech company.  Nick has a Master’s Degree in Clinical/Counseling Psychology and is an MFTI.

Sahara Lirone (Peer Support Worker): Sahara has been working with the Total Wellness integrated care program in San Mateo County for the past three years as a peer wellness coach and health educator. She believes in a holistic and compassionate approach to mental illness and eschews stereotypes in favor of seeing the value in each individual she encounters. Sahara holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and recognizes a creative spark as one of the many ways that she has been able to find her way to a healthy and fulfilled life. She continues to share her own wellness journey in hopes that others may find relatable inspiration.

Carmen Guerridos (Administrative Support): Carmen has been a dedicated public servant of San Mateo County for over 11 years. Currently, she is supporting four separate teams within Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. Carmen has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and is an essential component to the AOT team. Carmen is passionate about helping others accomplish their goals and is dedicated to the field. Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” and Carmen exemplifies that on every level.

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