Good to Know – The Baker Act

Counselor talking to young lady who is worried and possibly experiencing mental illness such as depression or anxiety. - 7/09/2019

If you or a loved one lives with mental illness, it’s good to know about the Baker Act. Emergency psychiatric admissions under the Baker Act can be confusing and stressful when the process is new and unfamiliar.

The Baker Act is Florida’s mental health law (Florida Statute 394.451-394.47891). When someone says that they have been “Baker Acted” or “placed under the Baker Act” they are generally referring to the initial involuntary evaluation provision under the law, which allows for individuals to be retained at a facility for up to 72 hours. During that time, an evaluation is done by “a qualified professional,” meaning a medical doctor, psychologist or in some instances, an advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP). The Baker Act process can be initiated in three ways:

  1. By law enforcement officers.
  2. By a mental health professional, ARNP or physician.
  3. By the court through an ex parte order based on sworn testimony by family, friends or acquaintances.

Family members or friends may want to ask about a loved one’s treatment. However, staff members at the treatment facility are bound by law to neither confirm nor deny that a patient is in care.  The adult patient is the only person who can give them permission to talk about his or her treatment or situation. Custodial parents have access to their children during the Baker Act process and the authority to share health care information or not with others.

Before 72 hours has passed, the treating psychiatrist will determine either that the patient is not a threat to him or herself or anyone else and can leave the facility, or that the patient still is in need of inpatient care and the psychiatrist can petition the court to hold the patient longer. The average stay beyond 72 hours is four and a half days. A psychiatrist or clinical psychologist has to approve the patient’s release.

Mental health professionals want to ensure that patients feel physically and psychologically safe. They are bound to obey Florida statute and honor patient’s rights, but by practicing Trauma-Informed Care they also will show compassion in the process.