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Nixon pushes mental health plan

With a recent focus on violence and mental health in the news, Gov. Jay Nixon said he thinks it’s time for Missouri to move forward with mental health issues.

“That’s why my budget includes $10 million to treat people with severe mental illness before they meet a crisis point and to help communities respond well,” Nixon told the state Mental Health Commission on Thursday.

He has a five-point plan that includes: providing more services to mental health centers across the state, developing crisis teams, increasing mental health training for professionals so they can recognize warning signs of mental illness, training law enforcement on mental health crisis intervention and teaching families how to care for loved ones who suffer from severe mental illness.

“We know often times that the real victims are the families,” Nixon said. “We think reaching out and doing this is exceptionally important for us, taking the lead on this and being proactive and continuing outreach and training.”

Nixon said bonding proposals and Medicaid expansion are two important issues in the state Legislature this session that will affect the state’s mental health landscape.

Currently, a special committee in the House is responsible for fleshing out details of a bonding proposal for financing infrastructure and transportation needs in the state. One infrastructure need, Nixon said, is to build a new and improved Fulton State Hospital to better meet the state’s mental health needs.

“I think they’re going to do that, and they’re going to do it right,” Nixon said.

The hospital was built in the mid-1800s, but mental health policies have changed since then, Rep. Jeanie Riddle said. The hospital lies within Riddle’s district, and the legislator is also part of the House committee looking at the bonding issue.

The Mokane Republican said last week the hospital “is the most dangerous place to work in Missouri.”

Not only is it unsafe for workers, but also residents.

As well as mental health facilities, Medicaid expansion is also on the minds of mental health advocates in Missouri.

Nixon said he sees expansion as the smart and right thing to do for the state’s health care system.

“The choice before us is relatively simple regarding Medicaid expansion,” he said. “Do we take the $1.8 billion in Missouri’s taxes from Washington and allow that money to be spent in other states or do everything within our power to bring that money back to Missouri?”

John Orear, an instructor with NAMI-Missouri, said Medicaid expansion is a huge issue for the mental health community.

Orear said he became an advocate for mental health services after his son struggled with bipolar disorder.

He said he believes money collected in our state should stay in our state.

“I totally support the governor and hope the Legislature can see the wisdom of doing that (expanding Medicaid),” Orear said. “There’s a huge human cost.”

Nixon said he understands the reality of mental health challenges across the state.

“We pay a lot of services in Missouri, especially in mental health,” he said. “If you can instead get those (services) under a system with a 100 percent federal match, that frees up general revenue dollars that can be spent on education, law enforcement and other things concerning needs and wants.”

Nixon said he thinks there are mental health challenges that might be exhausted if the state doesn’t move forward with expansion. He is challenging the Mental Health Commission to devise a report, due by March 1, that emphasizes the benefits Medicaid expansion would have on mental health services and outlines the challenges regarding mental health that would arise without expansion.

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