MENTAL HEALTHCARE POA
WHAT IS A MENTAL HEALTHCARE POWER OF ATTORNEY?
A mental health power of attorney (MHPOA) is a legal document in which an individual authorizes another to make decisions regarding their mental health care and treatment.
How, you may ask, is that different from the everyday medical power of attorney?
The main difference, depending on the drafting of the healthcare POA, is that the authorized agent in a general healthcare POA does not have authority to admit the individual to an inpatient psychiatric facility; whereas, the agent of an MHPOA has authority in all decisions regarding the individual or principal's mental health as provided in the MHPOA. The principal maintains the right to change or revoke the MHPOA so long as they are found capable of giving informed consent.
This is an important consideration for those who:
- have already experienced severe psychiatric issues in the past
- have Parkinson's disease and may be diagnosed with dementia in the future or have reason to believe they may be diagnosed with dementia
- have had changes in medication resulting in psychiatric problems or severe mental health issues as a result of the interaction of different medications
If a person becomes a danger to himself or others, an agent designated in the MHPOA has authority to act in the best interest of the principal. This is beneficial for family members as well as the individual.
It becomes a challenge when the state court system gets involved. There is a process where an individual may be subject to inpatient care by court order. A responsible person (family member, friend, person in the community) can file an application for involuntary evaluation and hospitalization with the Maricopa County Mental Health Court. During this process, the individual may be subject to inpatient care or outpatient care, depending on the severity of their condition. This can take a lot of time and unnecessary drama for the individual and the family.
If the individual is subject to emergency hospitalization as a result of being a danger to himself or others, they typically stay for 72 hours before decisions need to made. If an agent is authorized under the MHPOA, they can sign documentation that allows for the individual to stay. If there is not an agent in place, then the family must go through the process of appointing a guardian to make those kinds of decisions. At the end of the day, it's not overly difficult to get a guardianship done (although attorney fees may be a factor), especially in dire circumstances where the family likely wants to get things done without missing a beat.
The main purpose here is to alert anyone who may be in this kind of situation to the fact that even if they have a general healthcare power of attorney, that will not cover their loved ones needs in circumstances where psychiatric hospitalization is a factor.
If you have a loved one who suffers from a psychiatric condition, Parkinson's disease, or the early stages of dementia, it may be a good idea to consider a mental health power of attorney.