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Funding Mental Health Care a Matter of Public Safety

Rob and Nancy Mitchell
February 1, 2013
Twin Falls Times-News

We were pleased to hear during Governor Otter's 2012 State of the State Address his mention of mental health. However, we remain very disappointed in the disjointed manner in which both the governor and legislature are willing to shift pre-emptive mental health care from preventive work by the Health and Welfare Department to our Correctional Department. Is this the governor's long term strategy for mental health care for Idaho? Governor Otter referenced the Newtown tragedy as the catalyst for more state action. We share his emotion; however the Governor also had a recent tragic event occur in his own state [o]n which [neither] he, nor the Legislature, chose to take action.

Our son was tragically shot by a mentally disturbed individual while leaving a Pocatello coffee shop on Sept. 27, 2010. Our son was shot in the back, the bullet piercing his lung and lodging next to his heart. He never saw the individual. He had a less than 10 percent chance of survival had it not been for the quick response by Pocatello first responders and the cardiothoracic team at Portneauf hospital.

Our son is recovering. However, the scars left from this tragic incident will be felt his entire life. The individual was quickly identified and arrested by the Pocatello police. We were initially pleased to hear of his arrest and reassured this individual would not be able to harm others in society. We were also told that this individual had been under the care and supervision of the State of Idaho's Health and Welfare Department for most of his life, most recently with the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program.

According to the Department of Health and Welfare, the individual had been dropped from its care three months prior to him shooting our son.

The state blamed budget cuts for its decision to stop providing care to the individual. According to press reports, the state did not make any attempt to make contact with this individual's family of their decision, nor did the state apparently make any effort to make sure that he stayed on his medication, or did not become a threat to the public. He was on his own with his three guns!

The tragedy continues; less than two years after his arrest, the state, working with Bannock County, allowed the criminal charges to be dismissed because they did not believe that he was mentally fit to stand trial. It now appears that this individual has been released from custody. At the same time, the state will not tell our son or his family whether this individual is receiving, or is required to receive, care and treatment, whether he has access to firearms, or if he is in a position to harm others again.

From the very beginning of this tragic event, our son and his family have felt that care was needed for this individual, and equally, he must be kept in an environment where he could not inflict harm to others. We are pleased to see the governor willing to address the latter, but disappointed that he, and the Legislature, are unwilling to address the root cause, which is to fund the preventative programs that provide care before innocent victims are hurt or killed.

It's a matter of legislative and budgetary priorities.

Rob and Nancy Mitchell are Boise residents.

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