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Editorial: Bolster Kendra's Law to better monitor the mentally ill

New York Gov. George Pataki hands a pen

New York Gov. George Pataki hands a pen to Patricia Webdale after signing Kendra's Law on Friday, Aug. 27, 1999, in Albany. Credit: AP

The horror of two people pushed to their deaths from subway platforms last month should drive home in Albany the need to strengthen Kendra's Law and make it permanent.

Named for Kendra Webdale -- who died after she was pushed in front of a subway train by a man with a long psychiatric history -- the law authorizes court-ordered, intensive outpatient supervision to make sure the chronically mentally ill take their medication.

Studies show the 1999 law's approach to handling people who function well when medicated but deteriorate dangerously when not, has contributed to a decline in tragedies like Webdale's. And those receiving the intensive supervision are less likely to become homeless, abuse drugs, get arrested or commit suicide.

Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre, the State Senate Republican leader, mentioned the two recent subway-pushing deaths when he called on the legislature Wednesday to strengthen the law and make it permanent. Reauthorized twice since it was enacted in 1999, it is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2015.

Reforms to close cracks in the law are being considered by the legislature in tandem with gun-control proposals to limit access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines like those used by killers in Newtown, Conn.; Webster, N.Y.; and Aurora, Colo.

Those reforms should include requiring an evaluation when a mentally ill person is discharged from inpatient treatment, or released from incarceration, to determine if assisted outpatient treatment ordered by a court is appropriate.

The law should be amended to prevent an order from lapsing without a review to determine if it should be extended. And if an outpatient under intensive supervision relocates, treatment officials should be required to alert those in the patient's new county of residence.

No law can completely end the horror of mass murder, or the tragedy of people being pushed from subway platforms, as Ki-Suck Han was on Dec. 3 in Manhattan, and Sunando Sen was Dec. 27 in Queens. But done right, Kendra's Law can save some lives.