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Baker Act a top priority

Reform of the Baker Act to make sure the rights of elderly Floridians are protected will be a top priority in next year's Legislature, House Speaker Peter Wallace said Tuesday.

"We have a great concern about the treatment of senior citizens in the mental health system," the Democrat from St. Petersburg said in announcing his priorities for next year's session.

Citing the recent "A Dangerous Age" series in the Times, Wallace assigned the House Aging and Human Services Committee to study federal and state laws governing the placement of older Floridians in mental health facilities. Florida's Baker Act governs psychiatric commitment.

Among the health care and legal questions Wallace wants explored:

How is the Baker Act used when an elderly person is involuntarily committed to a mental hospital? Are elderly people and their families given adequate representation?

What is the patient profile of a resident in an adult care community? What staff training is required in these facilities?

Which state and federal agencies monitor mental health care in adult care and mental health facilities? Who determines the quality of care?