OHIO — A state lawmaker is making mental health a priority in the new general assembly.
Senate Bill 2 would not just increase access to quality care, but also change the way the state determines if a person is competent to stand trial and give unique interstate resource for Ohioans most in need.
Tom Clemons is the former Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Director for Wood County. He said during his tenure, he would encounter mentally ill people who were dangerous and refused treatment.
Clemons said a number of them were taken to jail when they really needed the security of a state hospital, but there were not enough beds.
"There was one time we had about four individuals that needed desperately to get into the state hospital and other psychiatric units refused to take them saying they are beyond our capability for providing services safely," said Clemons.
Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice and longtime mental health advocate Evelyn Stratton said 70% of beds are used by criminal defendants.
"Many of these people aren't sick enough that they need to be in the hospital the whole time but right now they are," said Stratton.
Non-violent defendants are sent to the hospital to see if they are competent to stand trial. They could be there for weeks even months before they are often released and subsequently re-arrested.
Both Stratton and Clemons have been working with Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services and Bowling Green Sen. Theresa Gavarone to fix the issue since 2016, when Gavarone was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives.
"I want to look at ways that we can end that revolving door and get people connected to treatment," said Gavarone (R-Bowling Green).
Senate Bill 2 would cut state hospitals out of the competency restoration process unless it is necessary and send defendants to probate court for treatment.
"If we free up a few of those beds that can make a real difference for people who need them," Gavarone said.
The bill also addresses the ongoing need for access to psychological services by calling for Ohio to join the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT).
PSYPACT allows doctors to help out-of-state patients and vice versa in 14 states.
Dr. Brad Potts of the Ohio Psychological Association said PSYPACT would be especially beneficial to people in rural areas as well as out-of-state college students.
"Imagine having to restart that each time you move. You're obviously going to be easily doubling the length of treatment. So, it's significant," said Potts.
Gavarone said while Senate Bill 2 would address two major areas of concern in the mental health and criminal justice systems, there is still more work to be done.
"It's a first step in solving a much larger issue that I'm committed to continuing to work on to get people the care they need," said Gavarone.