Legislators look at ways for those with serious mental health conditions to get effective treatment

06/15/2016 03:55 PM

FRANKFORT – Ending the revolving door for those with serious mental health conditions and proposed solutions was the subject of a three-hour Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare meeting on Wednesday in Frankfort.

Shelia Schuster, Executive Director of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, voiced her support for newly proposed Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) legislation which would create a procedure for a narrowly defined number of individuals to access supported outpatient treatment under a court order without having to again be involuntary committed or to enter treatment through the criminal justice system.

The legislation, similar to House Bill 94, which was filed during the 2016 session, would be known as “Tim’s Law”, named after Tim Morton of Lexington, who was hospitalized 37 times by petition and did not have the awareness that he had both mental and physical illnesses that needed to be treated. Morton died at the age of 56 in March of 2014 of natural causes.

“We do want to make sure that those individuals, like Tim Morton, who are very ill and who are unable to recognize it, who spend much of their lives in the revolving door of hospitalization, homelessness, or incarceration, are afforded a new opportunity to stay in treatment long enough to see the positive effects and the road to recovery,” Schuster said.

But some, like Ed Monahan with the Department of Public Advocacy, objected to the court ordered treatment model, favoring enhancement of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, a team-based treatment model that provides multidisciplinary, flexible treatment and support to people with mental illness 24 hours a day seven days a week.

“Our belief is to solve this problem that’s been identified as long-term, engagement with clients, with people, is a far more superior long term strategy than coercion through a court system,” Monahan said. “The mental health system, rather than the court system is the better place to really address this long-term.”

The most riveting testimony of the day came from Kelly Gunning, Director of Advocacy National Alliance on Mental Illness in Lexington, whose son attacked her and her husband after failing to fully deal with his mental health issues, and not having court ordered assisted outpatient treatment. Gunning emphasized to legislators that the problem with Assertive Community Treatment is that it is strictly voluntary for the individual with the mental health issues.

“On January 4th of this year, who was under the care of an ACT team at the time, came into our home as we were getting ready to leave for work and brutally assaulted my husband Phil and I,” Gunning said. “He was there to kill us. ACT teams are great when they work. They’re not for my son or my friend’s son Tim.”

Allen Brenzel, clinical director with the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental & Intellectual Disabilities with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, admits that more must be done on several fronts to address the needs of the severely mentally ill in the state.

“It’s not just AOT that’s going to fix this, it’s going to be the allocation of resources and the moving of resources to the appropriate places,” Brenzel said.

About Don Weber

Don Weber joined cn|2 when it launched back in May 2010 and soon became a reporter for Pure Politics. He is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University and has spent many years covering everything from politics to sports. Don says he loves meeting new people everyday as part of his job and also enjoys the fact that no two days are the same when he comes to work. Don Weber can be reached at donald.weber@twcnews.com.

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