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. The Baker Act is an emergency measure, reserved for when somebody gets 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. Typically this act is used when someone is threatening suicide or experiencing psychosis (a loss of distinguishing reality).
Under this act, individuals can be held for up to 72 hours in a mental health treatment program. During that 72 hours, they are evaluated by professionals who will either refer to further treatment, extend their involuntary hold, or release them.
What is the criteria for the Baker Act?
The act only applies when certain criteria are met to prevent the law from being abused. For the Baker Act to be invoked, the person has to meet all three criteria:
- There is strong evidence that the individual is mentally ill.
- The person is refusing treatment due to their mental illness, or their mental illness as rendered them unable to determine if they need treatment or not.
- If the individual does not receive treatment, they are likely to suffer from neglect or harm themselves or others.
What is the process to invoke the Baker Act?
The Baker Act process starts in one of three ways:
- The court can order the individual to be evaluated, or otherwise face jail time. Typically, a family member will petition the court to get the process started.
- A law enforcement officer can arrest someone who appears to meet the criteria and transport them to be evaluated
- A physician or mental health professional that has evaluated the individual in the past 48 hours can issue a certificate stating that the individual meets the criteria for evaluation.
The process depends on the urgency of the situation. If someone is actively threatening to harm themselves or someone else, you should call the police. They can safely detain the individual and take them to be evaluated by a mental health professional under the Baker Act.
If the individual isn’t in immediate danger, but still meets the criteria, the best way to get the process started is to petition the court. To file a petition, you must fill out the appropriate paperwork at the circuit court in your county. You may be required to present evidence that he or she is a danger to themselves or others, so if you have anything that could serve as proof, bring it with you.
If the court grants the order, a law enforcement officer will execute by serving them paperwork and taking them to be evaluated. In some FL counties, you can walk into the court and file, while others require an appointment. Once this is filed and approved, police should arrive shortly to take the individual into custody.
Doctors and mental health professionals can also petition the court system to Baker Act someone who, based on their assessment, meets the criteria. Usually, though, family or law enforcement officers are the first to intervene and get the process started.
What Happens After the Baker Act is Invoked?
Once the act is invoked, the individual is taken to a mental health facility for examination. Law enforcement will pick them up and transport them to the nearest Baker Act receiving facility. Adults can be held at the facility for a maximum of 72 hours unless a ruling is made to extend this period. Minors are only allowed to be held for 12 hours. All patients held more than 12 hours must be examined by a mental health professional within 24 hours of being admitted. Treatment, if needed, will be rendered based on this assessment.
What does the Baker Action NOT cover?
The Baker Act cannot be used in all circumstances. In essence, any case that falls outside of the three criteria is beyond the purview of this specific law. For example, developmental disabilities are not considered a mental illness; as a result, someone cannot be Baker Acted for having one and refusing treatment.
Intoxication and substance abuse impairment alone are also not covered under the Baker Act. Instead, those who are a threat to themselves or others because of their addiction are subject to Florida’s Marchman Act. The Marchman act applies the same concept as the Baker Act where families can petition the court to force their loved one into addiction treatment.
While the Baker Act is unique to Florida, most other states have their own laws surrounding court-ordered treatment. One example is Casey’s Law in Kentucky and Ohio.
How is the Baker Act used in addiction treatment?
Addiction is often accompanied by a variety of mental and behavioral disorders, so it is not uncommon for loved ones, judges, and law enforcement to use laws like the Baker Act to force someone to get help. I’ve treated many people who only got help for their addiction after they were court-ordered for an evaluation. But, intoxication and substance abuse impairment by themselves are not covered under the Baker Act. The individual must have a verifiable mental illness that ties into their addiction for the law to apply.
It’s also important to keep in mind that a 72-hour hold and evaluation is not sufficient treatment for addiction or mental health disorders. This law exists simply to create an avenue where someone who is struggling can get evaluated and referred to further treatment. The next stage of treatment could be at a mental health facility or a substance abuse facility, like our alcohol rehab Panama City. Without thorough follow-up treatment, addicts who are Baker Acted usually return to using drugs once discharged from the 72-hour hold.
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 circuit court for involuntary treatment, usually in an inpatient or hospital setting.
- Is taken by police if the Baker Act stemmed from a crime.
The Baker Act does not support indefinite holds. The facility can only hold them for maximum of 72 hours, or up to 5 days when an extension is granted. However, patients can be released at any point if their assessment determines that there is no basis for keeping them under the hold.
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
Sometimes, mental illness prevents someone from realizing how deep their struggles are and how much help they need to live a safe and happy life. It’s quite common for the cloud of mental illness to make individuals think it is everyone else who has a problem, not them. The Baker Act allows concerned parties to force the individual to receive the treatment they need with the hope that once the fog is cleared, they will stay the course and live a healthier life.