What is a 5150? (AKA 72 Hour Hold)

What is a 5150? If I have a record my job will fire me, and it’s no easy getting a job w/ a record.


Well now you’d think working in Mental Health, specifically the ER Department of Psychiatric Triage, I could write this answer in my sleep. WRONG!  I just assumed (and we all know what that means, but in this case it only includes the me part) everyone lives in California.  Sometimes I think my brain has left the building in Elvis’s pocket.  FB has how many millions of users?  And I know many of you wouldn’t even want to live here and I don’t think you’d all fit anyway.  But I digress.

Basically a 5150 is an involuntary hold for someone who shows possible signs of a mental  illness.  This is a California code.  All but 4 states have some version of this type of hold.  Some of these versions,  for lack of a better word, are harsh.  Some in my humble opinion even border on the violation of a persons constitutional  rights.  While doing research to answer this question some of the information I discovered left me quite unsettled.  I’m going to give you examples from three different states.  I’ll let you, the reader decide which ones you find disturbing  and ones you find a bit more reasonable.

State of Florida;  The Baker Act: Voluntary Hold:  The Baker  act  was first introduced into Florida law in 1971 by legislator Maxine Baker.  It was first called The Florida Mental Health Act.  Ms. Baker was a mental health advocate who saw the elderly being  institutionalized by their adult children to embezzle their money, husbands and/or wives doing the same thing as to avoid divorce that could leave them penniless.  These intolerable acts and others like them encouraged her to put into law The Florida Mental Health Act.  After her passing it became the Baker Act. Now this act is used to allow family members to have another family member forced into psychiatric care or to involuntarily place a person into psychiatric care under some rather questionable acts and criteria.  If a family member wants someone placed into psychiatric care all they have to do is go to the court house, fill out an affidavit stating they witnessed behavior from a family member that was a danger to self , others or gravely disabled.  A judge signs an order and local law enforcement is called upon to  take the person into custody and deliver them to an ER. Then they will be placed in a psychiatric facility.  Of course under the law this behavior must be “witnessed”.  Almost all judges will sign the order as a matter of routine.

I don’t think Ms. Baker EVER intended to see her law used as it is today!

State of Florida;  The Baker Act: Involuntary 72 Hour Hold: Anyone from a judge, mental health care provider, family member or friend can state or suggest that a person possibly 1) has a mental illness, 2) could be a harm to self or others, or 3) be self neglectful.  A judge signs an ex parte order and then law enforcement can be called, the person picked up, handcuffed and sometimes with no explanation  be taken to an ER  to be medically cleared.  After that they are taken to a facility where a designated person, usually the charge nurse who checks to make sure the person meets basic criteria for a 72 hour hold.  A qualified examiner has 24 hours to decide if the person meets official criteria for the hold, if they don’t meet criteria they are discharged from the facility.  If they do meet criteria the treatment team has five days to create a treatment plan.  So even if the person’ 72 hour hold is up  they can’t  leave.  The  team still has five days to create a treatment plan.  So they still have to wait up to five days to leave.

Hmmmmm  sounds like a little more than 72 hours to me, but hey my math isn’t all that great.

State of Pennsylvania; 302: Involuntary 72 Hour Hold:  A person meets the criteria for a 72 hour hold if   1)  They have had a mental illness for at least 30 days.  2 )  They are a danger to themselves; this includes verbalization’s of threats to mutilate, to commit suicide or in any other way harm themselves (these statements can be made to counselor, therapist or a physician).   3) They are a danger to others by threatening, attempting to or inflicting serious bodily harm on another.  4)  They cannot satisfy need for food, clothing, shelter or provide safety for their own protection that could possibly lead to death.  The petitioner writing the 302  for the hold must have first hand knowledge of these behaviors and have the 302 signed by the Office of Behavioral Health. From here on out any action that requires paperwork must be received by the OBH. Then the  person is either transported by law enforcement or ambulance to an ER for medical clearance and the need for a psychiatric evaluation.  If the person has to wait more than 12 hours the hospital must file a reason for  just cause.   Events that are accepted as just cause are; a population with a high acuity or one or more trauma situations. Once the person is medically cleared from the hospital they are then taken to a psychiatric facility.  If after 72 hours the treating psychiatrist feels that the patient no longer meet criteria they must be discharged immediately.

Wow! Only a twelve hour wait, I can remember sitting with sick babies longer than that! Of course this was before the advent of Urgent Care’s.

The State of  California; 5015:  Involuntary 72 Hour Hold:  The 5150 code falls under The California Welfare and Institutions Codes, it is in no way a Penal Code advisement.  A person must meet three criteria to be 5150’d.  All three of these criteria must be met under the assumption that a person could have a mental health issue.  1) Danger to self, a person must be in imminent danger of harming themselves.  If they verbalize words or phrases such as suicide, I want to die, I don’t want to live anymore  or he/she is hearing voices telling them to harm themselves they meet criteria.  2)  danger to others, must be in imminent danger of harming another person.  If they verbalize words or phrases such as I’m gonna kill that guy, you just wait till I get out of here and see what I do to her or he/she is hearing voices telling them to hurt someone they meet criteria.  3) Gravely Disabled this person has no means of food, shelter or clothing or is unable to keep themselves safe they meet criteria.  A 5150 advisement is not an application for involuntary admission.   A designated person sometimes the charge nurse or other licensed staff must assess this person face to face to see if they possibly meet criteria.  The psychiatrist can only make that final decision.  Then one of two things happen, the psychiatrist chooses to keep them on full 72 hour hold or they are deemed as a Disposition Pending.  This means the psychiatrist wants  to observe the patient overnight and see how they are doing the next day.  If the psychiatrist feels they no longer meet criteria they are released.

In most states that I’m aware of a 72 hour involuntary hold is confidential and should not prevent you from getting a job. You cannot own, purchase or posses a firearm for five years after being placed on a 72 hour involuntary hold.  The Department of Justice does keep a record of this.  They can’t say why you’re just placed on a list that gun and firearm dealers are given.

The only type of employment you might have some trouble with (and I’m not 100% sure about this, they could look at each case on an individual basis) is any type of law enforcement job, but like I said I’m not completely sure.

I certainly hope I helped you understand a little better what “5150” is.  They are called many different things in other states, but they all mean the same thing; a 72 hour involuntary hold.   One other bit of information that is somewhat important, a psychiatrist is who ONLY one who can rescind a 72 hour involuntary hold.

12 thoughts on “What is a 5150? (AKA 72 Hour Hold)

  1. I have never heard of this in my life. I had no idea things could be so serious for someone.

    It’s quite ironic that they have these strict laws for certain “offenses”, yet treatment is not taken as seriously as it should be.

  2. I know these holds seem harsh and in some states are not carried out with the compassion and dignity as they should be. However these holds fall under health and safety codes for mental health in all but four states.
    These holds have saved lives. I know personally of at least 3 cases where the person threatened suicide…….those around them did nothing…….the 3 people were successful in their attempts.

  3. I was put on a 120 after a thwarted suicide attempt on 1/11/2004. I was given a choice and elected for voluntary, but was unknowingly over-ruled by my 1stSgt who told the doc to keep me for 5 days. I only discovered all this after I left the military with an honorable discharge after completing my contract. Later I tried to legally buy a gun and found out later why I couldn’t. My 201 became a 302 and the 5 years I spent in the Marine Corps were for nothing but hypocrisy. The time spent in the ward didn’t help because I was out of my element with people who were very disturbed and I found help elsewhere later in life. I only wish I could have the freedom restored that I sacrificed my life for 5 years to earn.

  4. It all depends on the state and county you live in. The best advice I could give is to call your local Community Mental Health Department. I know in the county I live in that anyone can report a person to be committed as long as that person poses a threat to themselves or others, but I’m pretty sure it’s different depending on where you live. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  5. If i attempted suicide and failed the ended up in the hospital on an involuntary baker act and its been 5 days but i havent gone anywhere do i have the right to leave or am i stuck because a psychiatrist recommended i go to a phsyc ward

  6. 5150 was also used to pick up homeless people for a while but discontinued when the costs added up to more than budgeted. LA County Sheriff jail is one of the largest mental health facilities in the world (Thanks Reagan) and has processed as many as 150 of these in a single day.

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