Press Release: Local officials unite to endorse mental health tax

Officials in health and law enforcement tout benefits of a crisis stabilization center

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(Baton Rouge, LA, October 24) – Officials today announced support for a mental health tax to fund operations of a mental health crisis stabilization center in East Baton Rouge Parish. Official endorsements included those from District Attorney Hillar Moore, Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux, III, and Coroner William “Beau” Clark, M.D. The tax, on ballots December 8, will represent a 1.5 millage property tax, estimated to cost approximately $1.50 per month for the average homeowner with a home valued at $200,000. The tax will generate $6 million annually for ten years to fund the center.

“For $1.50 a month we add critical resources to our community and we can save lives,” said Kathy Kliebert, former head of the Department of Health and Hospitals and board chair of the Bridge Center for Hope, the nonprofit organization that would operate the stabilization center. “This facility will fill a critical gap in the Baton Rouge community’s mental health care services – helping people break out of the crisis cycle and avoid making repeated, costly visits to the emergency room or ending up in jail. These patients get the care they need and deserve, and Baton Rouge will save $55 million over the ten-year life of the tax.”

At an announcement event on Wednesday, elected officials, community members, and representatives of the Bridge Center for Hope Board of Directors spoke in support of the millage. Speakers pointed to best practice models and studies that have informed plans for the center, aimed at delivering mental health outcomes our community currently lacks.

“Mental illness is not a crime, and what we are doing today is not creating the outcomes we need,” said Moore. “Our police officers are spending exorbitant amounts of time responding to mental health crisis-related calls. Then the burden is on them to de-escalate the situation, taxi individuals to the ER, and oftentimes wait with them until they are admitted. This can take anywhere from four to 12 hours – time that should be spent fighting real crime.”

“Our community needs this,” said Gautreaux. “Our parish prison is not equipped to be a primary resource for mental health treatment, yet due to a lack of stabilization resources, it often ends up playing that role. A stabilization center could help reduce incarcerations.”

“We’ve seen this model work – not only in other communities like San Antonio and Memphis, but right here in Baton Rouge,” said Clark. “The Mental Health Emergency Room Extension at Earl K. Long Hospital saw about 50 percent self-admissions and 50 percent involuntary admissions. Zero of those individuals ended up in jail. My office has seen the problem grow since those days – in terms of commitments and overdoses, which are often associated with mental health crises. It’s time for us to step up as a community and address this problem.” 

In addition, The Baton Rouge Health District, a patient-focused organization comprised of leadership from across area health systems, research entities and care providers, was represented at the event by Executive Director Suzy Sonnier, who announced the organization’s endorsement of the mental health tax.

“Baton Rouge is a leadership city and we can provide a proven solution that will in ways serve every family who calls our community home, whether direct patient care, new first responder capacity or appropriate ER usage. We feel strongly that this stabilization center is needed, and that’s demonstrated through the research and experience of our health systems,” said Sonnier. “We’ve seen the problem grow across our community over the years, and the ERs, physicians, nurses, and other front-line staff of the health district see it every day. We want Baton Rouge to thrive. Men and women who are suffering with mental illness shouldn’t slip through the cracks of today’s fragmented systems.”

Supporters of the tax have launched a campaign with the slogan “Vote Yes for Mental Health.” The campaign’s website, www.mentalhealthbr.org, features a calendar of events where representatives will be speaking, video testimonials, and a long list of Frequently Asked Questions for voters who want to be better informed before casting their vote on December 8.

 

About Vote Yes for Mental Health

The Vote Yes for Mental Health campaign was established to help create a mental health crisis stabilization center in East Baton Rouge Parish, developing a safety net to catch people in crisis. This center would keep our friends, our colleagues and our loved ones them out of jail and the emergency room, and connect them to the long-term care they need to break out of the crisis cycle.

Learn more at https://mentalhealthbr.org/

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Phillip LaFargue