Florida’s Baker Act: What You Need to Know – Part 2

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Our firm is frequently retained to act to obtain the release of individuals erroneously confined and held involuntarily under the Baker Act. We hope to share some of the lessons we have learned in representing such individuals and obtaining their release.

This is Part 2 of our blog on Florida’s Baker Act. To read Part 1 of this blog, click here.

Selected Examples of Some of Our Prior Cases.

Here are examples of actual cases in which we have been retained to obtain the release of a Baker Act patient. We have changed the facts somewhat to protect the identities of the individuals and the facilities involved.

Case #1: An independent elderly woman who still worked and was completely independent tripped and fell in her apartment, injuring herself. Her roommate took her to the local hospital emergency room to be examined and treated for the physical injury. The emergency room staff had her involuntarily confined in the hospital’s Baker Act unit and would not release her. She was not a danger to herself or to others. She was completely independent and held a good paying job. Her roommate drove her around and to medical appointments. She had never been diagnosed with a mental illness before and had never been Baker Acted before. Because of the Baker Act confinement, she missed several of her regular medical appointments which she had scheduled.

Case #2: The president of a medium-sized manufacturing company in another state came to Florida for a business conference at which his company had a display. On the last night of the conference, he partied late, drank too much and a friend took him to a hospital emergency room. He had a plane ticket to leave the next day. The hospital emergency room staff diagnosed him with depression and had him involuntarily confined under the Baker Act. He missed his flight home, and one of his company officials had to come to Florida to try to get him released.

Case #3: The fairly new wife of a businessman who worked a lot and who already had two small children, delivered twins. About six months later, the nanny quit at during the same week that they were supposed to move to a new home. The wife went to her OB/GYN for her routine follow-up visit. She was tired and run down from the loss of her nanny, getting ready to move, taking care of all of the small children, etc. Questioning by her OB/GYN indicated that she may have been depressed. The OB/GYN had his two nurses from his office walk her over to the hospital emergency room (which was next door) to be Baker Acted. Her husband and kids were then at home without a nanny and without mom. Mom was angry and upset because she was not suicidal, felt that she had been betrayed by her doctor and was not a threat to herself, her children or anyone else. She felt she was a prisoner, confined without any rights.

Case #4: A 14-year-old girl in high school broke up with her best friend around Christmas time. She was somewhat depressed and wrote down her thoughts about “ending it all.” Several months later, at the end of the school semester someone found the anonymous note (it had been inside her textbook) and turned it into the teacher. The teacher and principal are eventually able to identify the handwriting and confront the teenager. She admitted that it was her note but denied any suicidal thoughts. The principal called the sheriff’s department and sheriff’s deputies came and took her away to a Baker Act facility over her parents’ protests. She was then involuntarily confined there.

Case #5: A happily married mother of three young adults (who were in college and lived with their mother and father) had a long history of depression for which she saw her own psychiatrist on a regular basis (for more than ten years) and received prescription medication to control it. Her psychiatrist routinely adjusted her medications as needed. Her psychiatrist had recently adjusted her medication, but then was out of town on vacation for two weeks. She had a reaction to the medication adjustment. She telephoned her psychiatrist’s office and was instructed to go to the nearest hospital emergency room to have her medications adjusted. She did this. Instead of getting her medications adjusted, she was involuntarily confined in the hospital’s behavioral health unit under the Baker Act, Her husband (a professional) and her children, who live with her and depend on her, are distraught and could not convince the hospital or its medical staff to release her.

The cases above are all based on actual cases in which we were retained by the individual or the family. We were able to obtain the individual’s prompt release from the Baker Act facility.

Serious Problems We See Over and Over Again.

– The staff and treating physician constantly pressure the patient to convert their involuntary confinement (which may be expiring shortly, or there may be no grounds to renew it) to a voluntary admission. If this occurs, then they can keep the person as long as they desire. However, they threaten that if the patient attempts to leave, even though the patient is now there voluntarily, then they will have the patient involuntarily confined under the Baker Act.

– The patient is angry and upset at being imprisoned when he or she came to the hospital voluntarily for help. As a result, he or she rants and raves and threatens the doctors and staff with litigation or refuses to talk to them. This may serve to reinforce the doctor and staff’s concerns that the patient is mentally ill or irrational.

– Some of our clients have expressed concerns that because they have excellent health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or TRICARE coverage (all of which cover hospitalizations), that they are being held involuntarily against their will when they should not be, while indigents who really have serious mental health issues are discharged immediately. They express concerns that they are being held involuntarily solely because the hospital and physician are getting paid to keep them.

– Individuals who have medical problems, but are successfully living independently and obtaining regular medical treatment for their ailments, may not receive the appropriate type of medical care they need when they are being confined in a psychiatric facility. Their prescription medications are at home, and they are not able to take their prescribed medications. Their regular treating physicians are not called or consulted. Their continuity of care is interrupted by the confinement.

– The regular treating physicians of those confined may not visit or see them while they are confined in a different hospital from the one(s) in which the treating physician has approved clinical privileges.

We Work to Get Victims Out Quickly.

Our firm has a process we follow to make sure that a person who should not be held under the Baker Act may be released in a very short time. If the basic criteria for a Baker Act confinement are not present, the person is not required to be held and should be released. If the person has been living independently for decades, has family and a support system available, and has had no prior mental health problems, the odds are he or she should not be involuntarily confined. We act immediately to begin our representation, to make the hospital and its physicians aware that we are representing a victim, and to take measures to obtain release. If required, we are prepared to file an emergency Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the local Circuit Court to have the victim brought before the judge for an emergency release hearing. These cases can be time intensive, require a great deal of immediate work, but can yield fast results in most cases.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Victims of Involuntary Confinement Through the Baker Act Act.

The Health Law Firm represents individuals, families and friends in challenges to and hearings related to the Florida Baker Act and Marchman Act, when the basic criteria for confinement are not met and there is no medical necessity for further confinement.

Our firm has a process we follow to make sure that a person who should not be held under the Baker Act may be released quickly. We act immediately to begin our representation, to make the hospital and its physicians aware that we are representing the victim, and to take measures to obtain release. If required, we are prepared to file an emergency Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the local Circuit Court to have the victim brought before the judge for an emergency release hearing. These cases can be time intensive, require a great deal of immediate work, but can yield fast results in most cases.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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