What is the Baker Act?

What is the Baker Act? header image

The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 (known as the Baker Act) provides an emergency mental health assessment and a temporary hospital hold for those who are struggling with mental illness to the point of no longer being able to make decisions for themselves. The Baker Act can be invoked by judges, law enforcement, mental health professionals or physicians. Typical uses include suicidal thoughts and psychosis (a loss of distinguishing reality).

Baker Act Timeline - 24 hours assessment, 72 hours discharge, 1-3 weeks follow-up treatment

What is the criteria for the Baker Act?

The criterion that needs to be met involve:

  1. a mental illness
  2. a refusal to get help
  3. a threat to themselves or others

Here is the exact language from the act, developed in 1972:

There is reason to believe that he or she is mentally ill. This means an impairment of the mental or emotional processes that exercise conscious control of one’s actions or of the ability to perceive or understand reality, which impairment substantially interferes with a person’s ability to meet the ordinary demands of living, regardless of etiology.

Because of his or her mental illness, the person has refused voluntary examination or is unable to determine whether an examination is necessary

AND

Without care or treatment, the person is likely to suffer from neglect resulting in real and present threat of substantial harm that cannot be avoided through the help of others; or there is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm to self or others in the near future, as evidenced by recent behavior.

What does the Baker Action NOT cover?

  • Developmental disability
  • Intoxication
  • Conditions manifested only by:
    • Antisocial behavior
    • Substance abuse impairment

How is the Baker Act used in addiction treatment?

The Florida Marchman Action applies the same concept as the Baker Act for families to force someone into addiction treatment. The Baker Act may be used once at an addiction treatment center in Florida. If a patient poses a risk to themselves or others beyond what the facility can handle, the addiction treatment provider may Baker Act the patient to a higher level of care like a hospital.

If the person is already in an inpatient setting at a rehab with a dual diagnosis license, the facility is prepared to handle issues like psychosis that comes with drug withdrawal. Baker Act situations are rare and extreme. An example would be if a patient brought a razor blade to meet with their therapist and talked about killing themselves. The therapist would likely call the police who would escort the person to a psychiatric hospital. There, the access to anything they could use to self-harm would be restricted and they would be watched on camera 27/4. If they didn’t agree to go, their hospital stay would fall under the Baker Act.

What Happens After the Baker Act is Invoked?

When an individual is Baker Acted, he or she will receive an involuntary assessment to determine his or her state. This assessment can be approved by:

  • A mental health or medical professional who has examined the individual within the previous 48 hours and determined that he or she meets the criteria to be Baker Acted
  • A circuit court who will approve a law enforcement officer to bring the individual to a mental health facility

Depending on the state that the individual is in, he or she can be transported via law enforcement to an emergency room or mental health facility.

Can a person be released after being Baker Acted?

During the examination stage, it’s determined if they will be involuntarily admitted for treatment or released. After no more than 72 hours, the person is released and:

  • Agrees to attend outpatient treatment.
  • Gave express and informed consent to voluntary move to inpatient treatment.
  • Had a petition filed with the circut court for involuntary treatment, usually in an inpatient or hospital setting.
  • Is taken by police if the Baker Act stemmed from a crime.

Why does the Baker Act exist?

Similar to the Florida Marchman Act (which provides involuntary services to those impaired by substance use disorders), the purpose is safety and well-being. While people are not usually feeling warm and fuzzy when being Baker Acted, the end result can be life-saving.

Some of the greatest advantages of the Baker Act include:

  • Preventing further psychological distress in the afflicted individual
  • Stopping the individual from harming themselves or others
  • Preserving the rights of the mentally ill
  • Giving the individual the opportunity to receive professional treatment that can help them control the symptoms of their mental illness
  • Ensures the safety of the public
  • Allows for a guardian to be appointed to manage the individual’s personal and professional dealings while he or she is being treated

205,781 Baker Act Cases in Florida in 2018

What do you do if you think your loved one needs to be Baker Acted?

If you have a loved experiencing symptoms like suicidal thoughts or psychosis, call police to initiate the Baker Act process.

Having a loved one struggle with mental illness is distressing, maddening and heartbreaking all at the same time. It’s even worse when you feel like there is nothing left that you can do to help. The Baker Act Florida can help you prevent crisis.

Sources

Florida Department of Children and Families: “Baker Act Manual.”
Florida Department of Children and Families: “Baker Act Involuntary Examination Criteria, Processes and Timeframes.”
LegalMatch: “Ex Parte Order.”

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