Calls for mental health care reform after theater shooting

Published: Jul. 24, 2015 at 10:56 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2016 at 4:58 PM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is calling on mental health care reform in the wake of Thursday night's theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana. Caldwell described the alleged shooter, John Houser, as an obviously unstable individual.  And other reports indicate Houser had a history of mental health problems.

Caldwell is not alone in calling for reform. Medical Psychologist Dr. Bruce McCormick of Shreveport described the mental health system as grossly under-served and underfunded.

"Somebody needs to say it. It's not politically correct but we take better care of our starving horses and our underfed dogs than we do our, particularly our indigent citizens who have mental health needs," said Dr. McCormick.

McCormick said in-patient mental health care used to be the norm several decades ago. But, a major shift called deinstitutionalization led to the closure of most state-run medical hospitals. Compounding the problem is the drastic cuts to mental health services across the country, especially in southern states like Alabama and Louisiana.

Investigators say the Lafayette theater shooter, John Houser, was from Alabama. That state currently ranks 49th in access to mental health care, according to Mental Health America. Houser then came to Louisiana which ranks 47th on the same scale.

Dr. McCormick summed up the problem in Louisiana with in-patient psychiatric care by telling us, "About the only way to get long-term mental health care in, in Louisiana, if you can't pay for it yourself to the tune of many thousands of dollars a month, is to break a law so bad and then be found criminally incompetent that you get to go to our long-term facilities for the criminally insane."

Unlike the haunting images we're seeing out of Lafayette, Dr. McCormick stressed that the vast majority of people with mental illness in this country are not violent. But he says those who are violent all-too-often end up either in prison or simply walk around as potential ticking time bombs.

Despite the call for mental health care reform, even by the likes of Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, Dr. McCormick fears the issue will likely lose steam as it always does once the immediacy of a shooting crisis fades from the headlines.

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