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Walt Maddox releases mental health plan focused on funding and restructuring

Sam Mattison

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Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Walt Maddox released his plan to address mental health in Alabama that proposes an increase in spending and changing of responsibilities of the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

Maddox, in a statement to the press, said his plan would involve expanding Medicaid, which is a point that Maddox has brought up when talking about health care in general.

“Nationwide, almost one-third of persons who receive health insurance coverage through Medicaid expansion have a mental disorder, a substance abuse disorder, or both,” Maddox said. “People who are uninsured have a higher prevalence of mental health conditions than the overall population, and expansion is key to providing broader access to mental health treatment.”

Maddox’s plan to address child mental health services would be included in his plan to raise education spending through a state lottery that would collect millions in the state.

In his plan, the candidate also would take the opioid task force away from the Department of Mental Health in a bid to refocus the organization on other issues.

“I also would separate out substance abuse programs from under the Department of Mental Health, so that a cabinet level officer would report to the Governor on our opioid crisis and other substance abuse problems, allowing the Department of Mental health to concentrate on its core mission,” Maddox said.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s Opioid Task Force has become an achievement of her administration and is a step to address the growing epidemic that claimed more American lives in 2016 than the entire Vietnam War, according to the Center for Disease Control.

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Maddox also promised to stack the Department of Mental Health with experts who would be given autonomy to make higher budget requests. He said while funding will ultimately come from the Legislature, “the Department of Mental Health should be fully free to seek the highest level of mental health funding and services Alabama can provide.”

But perhaps the most ambitious of Maddox’s plan is his initiative to tackle prisoner mental health services that have been under scrutiny ever since a federal judge ruled the facilities were “horrendously inadequate” and constitutionally insufficient.

In his plan, Maddox called for a refocus of the prison industry entirely on rehabilitation and not punishment, which he says is the focus of Alabama prisons.

“Mentally ill convicts are being returned to society ill-prepared for what awaits, and all of society is paying the price,” Maddox said.

Funding for the Mental Health services was an issue of the 2018 Legislative Session with a last-minute appropriations bill that would have given $30 million for prison mental health care. Pending a lawsuit by prisoners in the system, the program faces federal intervention unless it can remedy the problems judicially prescribed by the Federal Judge.

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