Dangerous patients testing bill moves through House

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Mental health and public safety are two of the biggest issues state lawmakers will face this legislative session.

On Wednesday, a House committee passed a bill to allow nurse practitioners to test potentially dangerous patients.

Stand Whittaker hauled a bag bulging with binders in front of lawmakers to prove nurse practitioners are not the problem but can be the solution.

The big binder is full of evidence claiming nurse practitioners can take on more responsibility. The smaller binder Whittaker was carrying: "That's the number of studies that say we are unsafe," he said.

Whittaker is a nurse practitioner. He's supporting a bill by Rep. Daphne Campbell to give nurses the authority to perform involuntary mental health checks on potentially dangerous patients.

"They are very well trained to act on patients who want to commit suicide or homicide," Campbell said.

The way the law is written now, if a nurse practitioner thinks a patient is a threat, the practitioner has to get a doctor or law enforcement officer to perform a mental health exam. That can take hours, and Whittaker has learned the hard way. He says there's no time to waste.

"I actually had somebody come to me and tell me, 'Look, you know, my wife's leaving me. I've lost my business. My daughter is ill and sick, and I'm broke, and I don't know what to do, and the only thing I can't think to do is kill myself,'" Whittaker said.

He called police.

"The police officer said, 'Well, basically, I don't think he's suicidal.' Then that individual left," Whittaker said. "Later that evening he managed to commit suicide."

If a patient is deemed a threat after the involuntary mental health exam is given, then a judge can order the patient to be held in a hospital or put under surveillance for 72 hours.

The bill made it all the way through the House last year but failed after the Senate refused to take it up.

This year, it's already made it through two House votes, and session has yet to begin.

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