By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, June 2, Alabama Mental Health Commissioner Jim Perdue (R) was in Sylacauga for the first of a planned eighteen town hall meetings
Commissioner Perdue told the estimated crowd of 70 gathered at the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce, “I want to talk to people across the state about mental health.”
Perdue said that historically Alabama liked to lock up its’ mental patients. Bryce hospital in 1971 had over 5000 residents, Partlow had over 3000, and there were other hospitals and development centers all over the State.
Perdue said, “We had thousands of people institutionalized. People literally brought their children, brothers and sisters to the gates of Bryce and they would spend their entire lives there and then be buried on the grounds often with no tombstones.
Bryce was the largest building in Alabama when it was built in 1861 in Tuscaloosa.
Perdue said that Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa is where the state sends people deemed not competent to stand trial. It has just 115 beds. Every day it is full. People are in jails across the State waiting for that next bed.
From Taylor Hardin you move to Bryce where we have 268 beds. Perdue said that we have 102 that should really be in Taylor Hardin. If the beds are full they are in a jail cell somewhere. We have a waiting list.
Perdue said that he is creating a commission to do something about it. The commission will work on an emergency plan to help solve the problem as well as address a more permanent solution.
Mental Health Commissioner Perdue said, that is the first crisis in mental health that the state faces. The second crisis is dealing with people with intellectual disabilities, what was formerly known as “retarded.” We don’t use that word anymore. We serve 6000. There are over 3000 people who are waiting for services. They are at home with their parents their brothers their sisters. These individuals need services and that number grows by 500 a year, Perdue said. “This is a crisis and we need to do something about it.”
Perdue said that the state match for Medicaid is going to have to come from new money. If we can get some increase that will help some people. This year the legislature appropriated $2.5 million more, that will help about 40 more people.
Perdue said, “We have got more to do in the area of intellection and developmental disabilities.” Perdue said that currently Alabama does not do much to help people with autism. I did not understand it before I became mental health commissioner. Auburn University is in the top five schools nationally in training therapists to help with autism, “88 percent of them leave the State because Alabama does not insure autism therapy.” Autism has a 50 percent cure rate by nine years old if diagnosed early and treated. If it is not treated then that person is often “touched” for the rest of their lives. We can invest now or we can pay later. 44 of the 50 states have done it. The investment is minor compared to the long term cost. I hope to have a summit in Birmingham where we bring all the parties together to prepare the legislation we need.
Perdue said that Taylor Hardin needs to be twice as big as it is. There are ways to save money. We have 150 employees in Montgomery occupying two floors in the RSA building. We can take that money spent on leased office space and move those offices to Tuscaloosa where we own land. Those are the things we are trying to do to streamline the process without raising taxes. We have a bright future and a great staff.
Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said that one of the reasons we have a crisis in mental health and Medicaid is due to insufficient money in the General Fund. One of the biggest problems we have is that Medicaid is terribly short. Other areas of Medicaid are hurting even worse than Medicaid. Pediatricians in particular are not looking good.
Sen. McClendon said that he introduced a lottery bill. It was a 31word constitutional amendment that allowed you to vote on whether or not the State should have a lottery. The bill did not pass the House or the Senate; but it gave me an opportunity to talk with Senators. They wanted more in it. Rep. Alan Harper is doing similar in the House.
McClendon said that he and Rep. Harper got both bills out of committee; but the bills were not ready to go to the floor. I have a comprehensive bill ready to go whether that is in a Special Session of in the 2017 Regular Legislation Session.
McClendon promised that if a lottery passes there will be some relief for everyone in the health care field.
Commissioner Perdue signed for the Cheaha Mental Health Centers (which serves Talladega, Coosa, Randolph, and Clay Counties) to merge with the AltaPointe Health System. Perdue said that this is an exciting time, because this is a merger of two talents,
Commissioner Perdue said that the large turnout for the first town hall event, “Is really encouraging to see.”
Perdue said that he was a probate judge for 14 years, which is the, “Best job in the world.” Perdue grew up in Luverne, received a degree in accounting from Auburn University and worked with the Federal Reserve bank in Miami and then in Birmingham. He returned to Luverne in Crenshaw County, went into business and built convenience stores for 25 years across the state. I understand what it means to run a business. He was elected Probate Judge of Crenshaw County and did that for fourteen years before running for Secretary of State in 2014. Judge Perdue lost in the Republican Primary to state Representative John Merrill (R from Tuscaloosa). Merrill went on to election as Secretary of State. Gov. Bentley appointed Perdue as Alabama’s Commissioner of Mental Health in July 2015.