Gov. Jay Nixon today heard from law enforcement officers and mental health care providers in St. Joseph about how a new initiative is strengthening public safety by connecting Missourians with mental health challenges with the care they need. As part of a strategic mental health initiative the Governor announced in his 2013 State of the State Address, new Mental Health Liaisons across the state are working with local law enforcement agencies and the courts to facilitate access to care and improve the coordination of mental health services.
"As tragic events across the country continue to expose dangerous gaps in our nation's mental health safety net, here in Missouri we have worked in a bipartisan way to close these gaps," Gov. Nixon said. "In less than a year on the job, these mental health liaisons have already made a real, lasting difference for the communities they serve -- easing the burden on local law enforcement and connecting Missourians with mental illness with the care they need. We have more work to do, but it's clear that our efforts to make mental health care a priority are helping improve the health and safety of communities here in northwest Missouri and across the Show-Me State."
The Governor's strategic mental health initiative is designed to help communities identify and treat Missourians with severe mental illness before they reach crisis point, and help communities respond to those who do. In addition placing 30 mental health liaisons at 29 Community Mental Health Centers, the initiative also included an expansion of Crisis Intervention and Mental Health First-Aid training throughout the state and resources for emergency room intervention teams to work with patients needing coordinated care.
Department of Mental Health director Keith Schafer praised the collaborative efforts that make the program effective. "Strong relationships with law enforcement and our judicial system serve to divert citizens to mental health services when needed and not incarceration."
"When we heard from first responders across the state about how individuals with mental health challenges were putting an increasing strain on local law enforcement agencies, we listened and took action," Gov. Nixon said.
"The Community Health Liaison program marks a significant step in addressing mental health issues in our community," said St. Joseph Police Chief Chris Connally. "This initiative continues to open up doors for training, and access to limited resources, which we hope will continue to provide the help our consumers deserve, and reduce the demand on our officers."
"Law enforcement officers in rural communities face unique challenges when it comes to dealing individuals with mental illness," said Cameron Police Chief Rick Bashor. "Gov. Nixon's mental health liaison initiative has been a tremendous asset to this department and to residents of our community."
A report from Mental Health First Aid USA shows that Missouri has the second-most number of citizens trained in Mental Health First Aid, which teaches people how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. Gov. Nixon's initiative to strengthen Missouri's mental health system included a historic investment in Mental Health First Aid, which is helping train more than 1,000 Missourians on these proven life-saving techniques.
The State of Missouri is also moving forward with rebuilding the crumbling Fulton State Mental Hospital. Opened in 1851, the Fulton State Hospital is the oldest state psychiatric hospital west of the Mississippi River and houses the state's only maximum security psychiatric facility.
"This program is not a silver bullet, and we all know that there is more work to do to help Missourians with mental illness and their families," Gov. Nixon said. "Strengthening and reforming Medicaid would bring our tax dollars home to provide health care to 300,000 uninsured Missourians, including 50,000 who need mental health treatment."
The Governor also spoke about the need to stop the flow of Missourians' tax dollars to other states by expanding and reforming Medicaid. A report from the Missouri Department of Mental Health found that nearly 50,000 of the 300,000 working Missourians who would gain coverage under Medicaid expansion need mental health services.