House Majority Ldr Ledbetter pledges improvements to mental health services in legislative session — ‘We’ve been able to move the ball further down the road than I ever anticipated’
MONTGOMERY — Often left behind in society are those suffering from mental illness, as they lack a voice to champion their needs and are sometimes overlooked. The impact is not just to those with an immediate connection to the afflicted but often to everyone, if not directly but indirectly.
For the 2020 legislative session, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) has taken up the cause of improving the state’s offerings on combatting mental health issues.
During an in-person interview that aired on Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Ledbetter explained what led him to become more involved in solving the state’s mental health problem. The Rainsville Republican recounted an interaction with a woman who lost her son because of what she said was the system failing.
“The thing about it is as majority leader, we have people come in the office all the time,” he said. “It seems like in two consecutive days, back to back, it was mental health issues, and mental health issues. One of the ladies really hit a chord with me because she was her son. She said, I know you’ve got boys, and I know you got grandchildren. I told her, ‘Yeah, I’m blessed.’ She was telling about her son, and he got in trouble chasing demons. And they couldn’t get him help. They tried the system. She felt like it failed him. He got into an issue one night with a police officer, and they got into a squabble. And he wound up shooting and killing him. She looked at me and said, ‘What if that had been your son because the system failed you?’ And thought, ‘Man, how real that is.'”
“I talked with the governor,” Ledbetter continued. “We meet with the governor once a week during the session, sometimes twice a month when we’re not in session. I told her, and just like you and I were talking about — the economy is doing great. It’s booming. We’re bringing jobs in. But I said, ‘Governor, we’re failing miserably in mental health.’ And she asked me if I would oversee it. We brought a bunch of people together from across the state from all different sectors. There was a young lady actually from my district. A superintendent hired a social worker for their school, and she came in and told what she was doing on a daily basis. And to me, she knocked it out of the park.”
Ledbetter explained the remedies he was exploring in the wake of that conversation.
“I think we’ve got to start in our school system,” Ledbetter said. “That’s where we’ve got to start. One of the bills we’ve got, we’ll do that. We’ll put a social worker in every school district. And not just that, we’ve got to do the CIP [Crisis Intervention Partners] training to help the officers to identify that. And help them where to keep them safe, themselves safe — and they do, do some training. Our goal is to get the national certification.”
Ledbetter credited Huntsville police chief Mark McMurray for the initiative his department undertook to work toward that certification.
He also indicated he was pleased with the progress made thus far.
“To be honest with, we’ve been able to move the ball further down the road than I ever anticipated we would,” he added. “In the governor’s State of the State, she announced we were investing $31 million in mental health. There’s about $18 million going to opening three crisis centers and putting a mobile crisis center. And all those — it’s a big issue.”
Ledbetter blames the last economic downturn for the state’s cutbacks in mental health. He also said those suffering from mental health challenges lacked a spokesperson to push for their interests in the legislature. But he also credited those currently working for the government in a capacity to help with mental health, calling it “God’s work.”