Patients' Rights Advocacy

Patients' Rights Advocacy Services is part of a state-mandated patients' rights advocacy system made up of three parts:

  • the county patients' rights advocates, known as Patients' Rights Advocacy Services in Orange County,
  • the state hospital patients' rights advocates, and
  • the State Office of Patients Rights. In addition to the patients' rights advocacy system, California has a federally mandated program, Disability Rights California (DRC), which provides legal protection and advocacy services to Californians identified as mentally ill who are or have been residents of facilities providing treatment or care.

Patients' Rights Advocacy Services believes that Self Advocacy is an essential part of the advocacy system. We strongly support mental health recipients advocating for their rights. Our office will assist mental health recipients in organizing and forming self advocacy organizations.

Services offered by the Patients' Rights Advocacy system:

Individual Advocacy

Patients' Rights Advocacy services primary responsibilities are the following:

  • Investigate and resolve complaints received from mental health recipients about violations or abuse of their rights in licensed health or community care facilities.
  • Educate recipients regarding their legal rights under the California Welfare and Institutions Code.
  • Advocate for mental health recipients who are unable or afraid to register a complaint, and/or help in negotiating a solution to a problem.
  • Representation of a client in a Certification Review Hearing, Administrative Fair Hearing or other dispute resolution process.
  • Assist clients with problems in the health care system related to licensed board and care facilities, mental health clinics and psychiatric hospitals.

System Advocacy

Patients' Rights Advocacy Services works to improve the mental health system by:

  • Regular monitoring of Orange County hospitals, skilled nursing facilities with specialized programs, licensed board and care facilities, county mental health clinics and contracted mental health clinics for compliance with patients' rights laws.
  • Assist staff in ensuring that the information about patients' rights is posted in all facilities providing mental services, and that all incoming clients are informed of their rights, including the right to contact Patients' Rights Advocacy Services or the State Office of Patients' Rights.
  • Reviewing and commenting on policies and practices which affect recipients of mental health services.
  • Providing consultation and generating policy questions for the State Office of Patients' Rights.
  • Coordinating with other advocates for system reform.
  • Analyzing state and federal legislation and regulatory developments.
  • Representing clients' interests in public forums.

Rights of a Patient: Mental health patients have the same legal rights guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution and other laws. As citizens, patients do not lose their rights by being hospitalized or receiving services. Patients' rights can be found in statutes, regulations and case law. California Welfare and Institutions Code (CA W&I Code) §5325 and §5325.1 codify the statutory patients' rights in California.

Under California law, the following rights may never be denied (CA W&I Code §5325.1):

The right to treatment services which promote the potential of the person to function independently. Treatment should be provided in ways that are least restrictive of the personal liberty of the individual.

  • The right to dignity, privacy and humane care.
  • The right to be free from harm, including unnecessary or excessive physical restraint, isolation, abuse or neglect. Medication may not be used as punishment, for the convenience of staff, as a substitute for, or in quantities that interfere with, the treatment program.
  • The right to prompt medical care and treatment.
  • The right to religious freedom and practice.
  • The right to participate in appropriate programs of publicly supported education.
  • The right to social interaction.
  • The right to physical exercise and recreational opportunities.
  • The right to be free from hazardous procedures.
  • The right to see and receive the services of an attorney and a patients' rights advocate.

Psychiatric facilities must also uphold the following specific rights, that can be denied only when "good cause" exists (CA W&I Code §5325):

  • The right to wear one's own clothing.
  • The right to keep and use one's own personal possessions, including toilet articles, in a place accessible to the patient.
  • The right to keep and spend a reasonable sum of one's own money for small purchases.
  • The right to have access to individual storage space for one's own use.
  • The right to see visitors each day.
  • The right to have reasonable access to telephones, both to make and receive confidential calls.
  • The right to have access to letter-writing materials, including stamps.
  • The right to mail and receive unopened letters and correspondence.

In addition, all patients have the following treatment rights:

  • The right to give or withhold informed consent to medical and psychiatric treatment, including the right to refuse medication, unless specific emergency criteria are met or there has been a judicial determination of incapacity (CA W&I Code §5325.2).
  • The right to participate in the development of individualized treatment and services planning (CA W & I Code §5600.03).
  • The right to refuse psychosurgery (CA W & I Code §5326.6).
  • The right to confidentiality of mental health information (CA W & I Code §5328).
  • The right to inspect and copy the medical record, unless specific criteria are met (CA Health & Safety Code §1795).
  • The right to have family/friends notified with patient's permission (CA W & I Code §5328.1).
  • The right to an aftercare plan (CA W & I Code §5622).

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