Mental health first aid bill clears Senate

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Sen. Alverado discusses legislation on Senate floor Thursday.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Mental health first aid training proposal cleared the Kentucky Senate, Thursday.

The vote was 34-0. It was approved 93-0 by the House in January.

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“We talk a lot about mental health as a major health problem and the underlying cause of many societal struggles like substance use disorders, suicide and violence,” Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said in explaining the need for the bill. “Little has been done, though, to put tools in the hands of those who work directly with individuals who may be dealing with a mental health issue.”

Alvarado, who is a practicing doctor, said early intervention for mental health issues is a key to reversing some troubling health trends.

“Life in the United States has actually been declining since 2015,” he said. “Kentucky has a higher rate of young people dying of preventable causes than most other states. Most of the known risk factors for these early deaths are related to mental health issues.”

Alvarado said HB 153 would also reduce the rate of substance use disorders across the state. Kentucky lost 1,333 citizens to overdose deaths in 2018, he said.

HB 153 would direct the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to establish the program. Alvarado said the goal would be to train professionals and members of the public to be able to identify and assist individuals who may be having a health or substance abuse crisis.

The bill would also create a fund for training grants. The grants would be awarded equitably among geographical regions and meet the training needs of rural areas, areas with underserved populations and areas with health care provider shortages. The recipients of awards may include law enforcement, correction, education, military, older adults, and youth-focused agencies.

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, successfully offered a floor amendment to make retail establishments eligible for the grants. He said HB 153 could help reduce mass shootings.

Hornback then introduced Whitney Austin, who was shot 12 times while walking into work at downtown Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Bank building in September 2018. Three people were killed in the attack and two injured, including Austin, before police shot and killed the gunman. A subsequent investigation found the gunman’s family had tried to get him committed to a mental health facility on at least two occasions.

In response to a question by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, Hornback said the businesses would not be required to participate in the training. It would be voluntary.

Because the Senate amended SB 153, the measure goes back to the House for consideration of the changes.