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What is guardianship? Guardianship is a legal process consisting of a court-appointed relationship between a competent adult and a person over the age of eighteen whose dis-ability renders him/her unable to make an informed decision or at risk of doing harm to self or others due to an inability to manage his/her own affairs. The incapacitating disability may be caused by mental illness, developmental disability, aging or other factors. A guardian is defined as a person who has been entrusted by the Surrogate Court with the care of another person, for the person's property, or for the care of both person and property.

Who can be a guardian? A guardian can be a friend, family member, neighbor, or a professional who has been trained to carry out guardianship functions. Corporate guardianship is also an option for those who have no one to serve as guardian. Corporate guardians can be non-profit or public organizations, banks, or other officials who have been deemed able to function as guardians. It is generally preferred that the guardian reside in the same state as the ward; however, direct or adopted close relatives (e.g. adult children, spouses, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles) are eligible to become guardians, regardless of residence. When deciding on a guardian, it is also advisable to think of who could be a stand-by or alternate guardian, in case something should render the proposed primary guardian unable to carry out the guardianship duties.

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What is a health care proxy? A health care proxy is a legal document that a person fills out, signs, and has witnessed by two other people. This document appoints someone of the person's choice to make health care decisions for him/her if he/she is unable to make the decisions. A proxy is a person who has been given authority to act as an agent for another person. On the proxy form, there are several blank lines where a person can make specific wishes known. All hospitals, doctors, and other health care facilities are legally bound to honor the decisions stated in the health care proxy.

Who should have a health proxy? Appointing a health care proxy is optional, but it is a good idea for anyone, no matter what age or general health condition, to have one. For persons with mental illness and their loved ones, this document can be especially helpful. It will give the individual a chance to make his or her wishes known. It is important that the document be signed when the person is doing well psychologically, so there won't be questions as to what the true wishes are. It can also ease the burden for loved ones who would otherwise have to make agonizing decisions, allowing them to follow the person's wishes.

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THE HOSPITAL WITHOUT WALLS

PACT (Program for Assertive Community Treatment) is a treatment model that provides comprehensive, locally based treatment to people with serious and chronic mental illnesses.

PACT is, in essence, a hospital without walls. PACT recipients receive the around-the-clock staffing of a psychiatric unit, but within the comfort of their own community. PACT members are trained in the areas of psychiatry, social work, nursing, and vocational rehabilitation. The PACT team provides these necessary services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Kendra's Law is a New York State law concerning involuntary outpatient commitment and grants judges the authority to mandate people receiving mental health services to take psychiatric drugs, regularly undergo psychiatric treatment, or both.

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The Commissioner's Committee for Families (CCF) was established by Former OMH Commissioner, Michael Hogan. It is comprised of family members, family–run organizations and Statewide mental health advocacy organizations. The CCF meets quarterly during the year to discuss current policies, practices and needs of the family members of those with a psychiatric diagnosis. They work on addressing those needs policies and practices to guide how best outcomes are utilized to improve their loved ones and the communities mental wellness and care services delivered to those with a diagnosis in a “People Centered Planning” model.

The positive collaborations of the CCF members have produced various publications, available to the public through OMH such as the “When Families Join the Mental Health Care Team…” pamphlet and the “Understanding HIPAA, NYS Mental Hygiene Law…” booklet.

The Committee has provided insight on many of OMH’s initiatives and projects, such as the NYS Cemetery Restoration Project. It is through the partnership this committee holds with OMH that the needs of families and their loved ones with a psychiatric diagnosis can best address the needs of the entire family in support of overall wellness. For there to be recovery, there needs to be information and support. The Commissioners Committee for Families is one of those supports working to seek out, develop and provide other supports to the communities of NYS.

In March of 2010 the Recipient Advisory Committee and the Commissioner’s Committee for Families combined into one meeting. It is now called the Regional Advisory Committee (RAC).

If you would like more information or would like to register for the next meeting, please contact the Regional Advocacy Specialist from your region click here.

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